A nameless fragment about a character with no name

June 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

They weren’t dogs, to look at them.

They weren’t alligators, although they had scales around their eyes and backs.

There were six of them around the staircase, circling it and snarling at him. The wind from outside blew the open door around behind him, and he cocked an ear to listen to the noise upstairs. Inside strange, hairy and scaled jaws lolled deep black tongues.

“You rotten son of a bitch! They were all right about you! I defended you, and you turn around and prove them all right all along. Lisa, Michael, even Scott… Jesus, I told him I never wanted to talk to him again!”

The reptile-dog-whatever they were seemed to be disturbed by the noise from upstairs. While they quivered and tried to decide on a course of action, he focused on the image in his thoughts and began to concentrate, then spoke softly.

 

Torch dragon. You are blood skinned, and dwell beyond even the northwestern sea. Ruler of the Pied-Tail Mountain, who brings night and day with the opening of your eyes. You know no hunger, you do not tire. You shine upon any darkness. Rival to the sun, the sun yourself, creator of the day, who wind and rain obey.” He felt his skin tingle as though caught in a sudden draft, growled as his brown hair lifted in a breeze and flared bright red, while his beardless face burned as red as the sunset. The dog gators backed away slightly while whining and growling, and the upstairs door opened.

“What’re you…” The man who came out was spear-bald and tall, pale the way people who avoid daylight become, and even from the top of the staircase he reeked of stale sweat and urine, and worse, the pungent reek of crystal meth. Behind him, a woman with short red hair and well-applied kohl under each vibrant green eye shoved past and stopped at the sight of the gator dogs.

Well, and possibly the glowing man she doesn’t know in the living room.

“Who the hell are you?” The skinny pale man spoke up.

“Scott Maliczewski hired me to check on his friend Thea, make sure she was okay. Especially after one of your… dogs… somehow managed to turn up outside his house.” He couldn’t keep from smiling, didn’t even especially want to. “You want it back?”

“There’s no way it would go anywhere with you.” Bald’n’pale didn’t seem to see the ripshit stare the woman… the remarkably curvy woman, a part of him noticed from his position down the stairs… shot his way at the implied admission of his statement. Unfortunately she didn’t seem to have the ability to strike men dead with a glance.

“Yeah, it was remarkably strong willed. It chased Scott for quite a while, even managed to track him over to the place he and I were scheduled to meet. That Star Market’s probably never going to reopen. That doesn’t bother me, much… but I liked Tony’s Pizza.” He reached into his coat and took out the ziplock bag from his inside pocket, tossed it on the floor in front of the gator dogs.

Inside it was a deep black length of flesh torn out by its root.

“The rest of it is in the trunk of a car right now. If you’d like to come down, I can take you to it.”

“There’s no need for this.” The woman spoke, her voice surprisingly deep. Pleasant, almost tactile the way it rolled out of her mouth, even clipped and angry as it was. “I was just leaving anyway.”

“Thea, you’re my Isis…”

“Cut the shit, Stuart.” She turned on him so fast it was almost invisible. “It’s bad enough you’ve been dabbling in this!” She waved her hands at the reptiles that were mammals below them on the floor. “After I told everyone you were a good guy, you turn a bunch of poor scared animals into… into freaks. And now this guy says you sent one of them to kill Scott, and you don’t even deny it? I don’t fucking want to be your goddamn Isis.” Turning again, she gave him a chance to look her over… wide hips in low-slung jeans, slight roll of stomach over the waist, tight t-shirt with a crux ansata on the front in red and gold, a strong cast of jaw and short red hair the color of an old penny, almost matching her freckled throat. She strode down the stairs and through the pack of animals as if they weren’t there at all and walked up to where he stood, red radiance flickering on his exposed skin. “Is Scott okay?”

“He’s outside, actually. Sitting in his car.” He turned to look up the stairs at the fidgeting man, then back at her. “Should I take this to mean you’re free to leave whenever you like?”

“There’s nothing that toad could do I’d be afraid of.” She looked up the stairs again, then turned and left. They both watched her go, then looked back to each other.

“I just wanted them all to leave us alone.”

“I don’t care. I’m being paid to be here.” He looked at the shuffling gator dogs, the hounds of Sobk, or poor renditions of them wrought through obsession of pregnant bitches. “Mithras, why didn’t you just summon alligator spirits?”

“I… I don’t know how.”

“Do you even know how to feed these fucking things?”

“They need blood and flesh, live prey…”

“No they goddamn don’t! They just need meat. They’re just deformed dogs, you imbecile. They’re dogs that look like alligators, easiest goddamn thing in the world to do… you can feed them canned fucking Alpo!”

“Oh.” They stood there for a while, the glowing red man with the shoulder length hair glaring up at the pale one in a black button-up flowing shirt and black jeans. “The book said that hounds of Sobk…”

“Hounds of Sobk are fusions of crocodile spirits and freshly sacrificed dogs. They’re goddamn animated corpses. These are living, breathing, whining animals, dogs you fucked up with some dumbass inverted rite involving crocodile dung, I’d bet. Do you have any idea how pissed off I was when I found myself easily killing what I expected to be a relentless gator-spirit incarnated in unyielding dead flesh? I felt like an asshole. I figured you were just taunting me with your true power hidden behind some sort of sadistic, mocking gesture… after all, you couldn’t have thought that Maliczewski was actually a threat… and now here I am, and you actually shot your wad on deformed dogs.”

He made fists and unclenched them slowly, listening to the whining and yapping of the animals now half-climbing the stairs, torn between their fear of the unnatural thing in front of them and their love for the man up the treads.

“I don’t even want to hear about you ever again.”

“But I love…”

Not. Ever. Again. Maliczewski suffers a stubbed toe that might have an occult explanation, and I come back here for free and beat you to death. I’d say something about the woman, but looks to me like she could kick your ass without so much as scuffing her shoe. What the hell, I’ll throw in that threat for free, too. Take care of your poor hideous dogs, stay out of the path of my shadow, and we’ll all be deliriously happy. Otherwise…”

He turned and lashed his right fist into the door at his side, and the wood burst right down the middle as though it were hit with an axe while also bursting into flame. The dog things on the stairs yapped and barked and one lost control of its bladder, spraying harsh bitter-smelling urine all over the red carpeting.

“Are we clear?”

“…Yes.”

“Good. I hope to never see you again, Stuart.” The wind was still playing up outside, and the wind he brought outside with him faded as the ruddy light crept down his skin and his hair began to blow along with the rest of the world, with the trees and bushes and flowers in the yard and the overly long and weedy lawn. Standing up against the white Toyota Tercel that had brought him to the small white and green house on Intervale Road in the first place was the woman from inside… her name’s Thea, you know that… and she was hugging the short, squat man who’d hired him in the first place, Scott Maliczewski. His skin looked dark as stained wood next to hers, highlighting how pale she really was. It looked better on her than her ex.

Maliczewski turned to look at him as he came out. He was obviously nervous, and it was hard to blame him.

“So…”

“I didn’t kill him. Wasn’t necessary. If he sends one of those things after you again, call animal control.”

“But they’re monsters.

“They’re just dogs, Scott.” Thea’s voice, more animate but still deep and resonant, caused his attention to flutter. “Weird looking, yes. I can’t believe he did that to them. If I’d known he was like that… and yes, you can say you told me so.”

“Maybe later, I’m just glad to see you’re all right.” Maliczewski turned back to face the man he’d hired, still struggling to figure out how to act.

“Let me make it easy for you. I’ll take a thousand, since this guy was almost entirely bullshit, instead of the cost I quoted you.” He tried really hard to not pay attention to the woman’s cloudy green eyes, knowing they were locked on his face. He didn’t have to justify anything to her. He knew Maliczewski wasn’t happy with having to pay him, but he really didn’t care about that. He locked his eyes on the center of the man’s face and waited.

“Okay.” The wallet came out, as did ten hundreds from that wallet. They were pocketed as soon as they were handed over. “What about the bag in the trunk?”

“Dump it on his lawn for all I care. It doesn’t have an alligator spirit, which is about like I thought, so it’s not going to hurt you. You’re clear, and if it turns out he gets any smarter or more aggressive, I’ve already told him it’s his ass. If things get really bad, you can call that voicemail drop. It gets checked once a day.” He turned to leave.

“Say, do you need a ride somewhere?”

Both men turned to look at Thea with a touch of confusion.

“What? You drove him here, right? Why should he have to walk back to wherever he’s going? My car’s here.” She put a hand on her hip. “I can give you a ride, since I’m leaving anyway.”

“Thea…” Maliczewski clearly didn’t want to say anything derogatory about the man he’d paid to kill a dog, even though he clearly wanted to say something derogatory about the man he’d seen kill a dog. If not for his cherished air of neutrality when dealing with a client, he might well have laughed in the guy’s face. Well, that, and the fact that he’d have to duck his head down a foot to do it. “Let him walk if he wants to.”

“He hasn’t said he wants to.” She looked him over again. “Do you want to?”

“I could take a ride. If it’s no problem.” He bit at the inside of his lip a little to keep from smiling at the man who’d hired him, an obviously decent if straight arrow man in a grey suit tailored to conceal his more obvious physical flaws who really cared about the woman, even if he didn’t understand her at all. “I’m heading to Bristol.”

“I can take you to Bristol.” She ducked down to kiss Maliczewski’s cheek. “I’ll call you tonight?”

“Do, please.” Another long stare from the man was ignored. He knew he was no threat even if the shorter man didn’t. Then they walked, with her in the lead, to a battered old Honda CRX that might have been red in 1986.

“My name’s Thea, which I guess you know.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“This would be the part where you tell me yours.”

“It would be, if I had one.” He blinked, realizing he’d admitted it a lot sooner than he usually did if he intended to admit it at all. “But I don’t. Sorry. If you don’t want to give me a ride…”

“You don’t have one?” She fished out a key and unlocked her door, then slid in and popped the passenger lock with easy, familiar grace. “Get in.”

“No, I don’t have one.” He crunched himself down to fit into the car, the spikes on his right shoulder scraping along the ceiling of the car as he did. He saw her reach down and adjust the seat, her arm sliding between his legs to do it, before he could figure out where the release was. It scraped and made a sound of springs coiling as it slid back.

“That’s very interesting.” Her grin was a slash curling up the edges of her face, revealing just a hint of teeth, changing her face from slightly attractive to wickedly beautiful. He found himself staring, and made himself blink to stop it. “I’ve never seen anything like what you were doing in there. What was that?”

“I was the Torch Dragon. Chu Lung, the serpent who is a man who is the sun.”

“Okay…” She started the car, put it in gear. It sputtered a bit but didn’t stall, and she slapped the dashboard lightly. “Good girl.”

He fought back a smile at that. She didn’t look away from the road while driving, and for a little while they sat in silence.

“I’ve known a few guys who claimed they could channel a god, no offense to you. But you were glowing. I saw it. Now, I’ve had a few experiences… Stuart was just the worst in a long line of bad choices, I admit, but even without idiots I’ve done plenty on my own. I’ve even made contact a few times. Nothing like that. So I’m curious.”

“I… look, it’s actually one of those things that, when I say it’s a long story, it actually is, I’m not bullshitting or trying to get out of telling you. I don’t know that anyone’s ever asked who didn’t know me before.” He looked out the window at the Walt’s Roast Beef sign on the side of the road, remembering years before when his mom would pick up Fish and Chips there in a stunning display of a restaurant bucking its own name to bow to the power of Lent and Friday in heavily Catholic Cranston. “So I’m saying that if you want to know, I don’t especially want to sit in this car and talk about it. I want to be able to get comfortable.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?” He turned back to look at her. “You just met me.”

“Yeah, and you were glowing and my boyfriend made mutant dogs, probably out of crocodile shit and really badly munged incantations.”

“Yeah, I thought it was probably the crocodile shit. Did he suddenly develop an interest in raising dogs?”

“Not so much… he kept volunteering to work down at the ASPCA, I should have known he was up to something. I don’t know why I stayed. The sex was okay, but he was getting high a lot and ranting about Osiris and Isis all the time… but I’d defended him to everyone. I didn’t want to look like an asshole.” She grimaced as she switched lanes to turn onto Rt. 10. “Which I do.”

“People do stupid shit for love. Not that I would know.”

“Never been in love, or never done stupid shit?” She smiled again while watching the freeway roll by, and he felt himself smile back.

“I’ve done plenty of stupid shit, and I was in love once or twice.” He closed his eyes for a moment and leaned back, feeling the cool vinyl of the headrest. “I just don’t really have the right to say I understand anyone. What do I know about why people do what they do? I don’t even know why I did what I did most of the time.”

“Here’s where I’d love to say something smarter than ‘yeah’.” She drove from 10 to 95 and then onto 195 with neither of them speaking, He almost fell asleep, and only the awareness that he was about to be helpless in a car with a woman he didn’t know popped his eyes open. He opened his eyes and saw her chewing slightly on her lower lip while she navigated around a yellow school bus.

“Hey, man with no name. Where are we going? After I hit Bristol, I mean.”

“Well, if you still want to know about…”

“No, that ten minute car ride totally wiped my curiosity away.”

“Then we might as well go to Colt State Park, I guess. Big open area, so we’ll both be simultaneously in public and yet have some privacy to talk, plus it’s still fairly nice out.” She looked out the windshield at the overcast sky but didn’t correct him.

“All right.” The drive through East Providence, Barrington and Warren didn’t use much of his attention. Instead, he thought about why he was even going along with this and didn’t really like the reasons that floated up. He snuck a quick look at her body and knew that it was definitely included in the decision-making process. The rather spectacular curve of her hips kept drawing his attention. She was far from waifish, which brought quick memories of a long-ago red-haired red-eyed woman who’d never loved him. The two couldn’t be more different save for their hair color, and so far a certain sharp edge to their tongues.

And it’s been what, three years? Four?

He didn’t like that idea, either. After Evvie left him, he hadn’t exactly gone looking for another woman. Either because he didn’t think he could get another one or he didn’t want to have to endure losing another one. People leave. It was practically cut into the skin on his chest. People leave and love dies.

He was beginning to be aware of a lower region of his body that had a counterargument. It was a remarkably effective one, probably due to its simplicity.

Jesus, Mithras and Cronos, you still use ten words when one would do.

He was aware of her eye flickering over to look at him while she drove, and instead of acknowledging it, he let his eyes wander. They turned off of Route 114 and into the park with him wanting a beer or something stronger. The roads inside the park looped around, and they passed by several other cars parked near the water or around various buildings.

“Where should I park?”

“Head for the overlook parking. We’ve only got a few hours before sunset anyway.”

There was parking, which wasn’t surprising on an overcast day. He stretched and groaned a little at having been crammed into her car while she yanked a denim jacket out of her back seat and a blanket, a ragged red quilted thing.

“Where next? You’re running this show.”

“Yeah. Come on, we can find a place near the water. My grandfather used to live out there.”

“Really.” She fell into place behind him. “I don’t suppose you remember his name.”

“Nope. I’m pretty sure it was the same as mine, though. Which is probably why I can’t remember it. I called him Papas, if that helps.” The grass was tall in places, and the smell of the ocean came up at them, as well as a light spray from water crashing against rocks. The bite of the air was gentle but cold enough that he could feel the hairs on his arms as the skin goose pimpled even through his jacket. “Hey, are you cold?”

“A little, but not too bad.” She smiled at him again, and his face responded before he could stop it. “You look a lot younger when you smile. I thought you were in your forties at first.”

“No. Born in the seventies.”

“Closer to my age, then.” Her hair blew around in the wind, and he found himself holding his hand flat against his leg very consciously. His own hair was its usual annoying mess as they got closer to the bay, snapping about and forcing him to push it out of the way repeatedly.

Finally they stopped near a set of old stairs that led down to the beach itself. There wasn’t anyone around, which was part of the reason he chose the area, and she spread her blanket down and anchored it with a few rocks easily found in the dirt near the edge of the stairs. Sitting down, she looked up at him with eyes much the same color as the water being churned by the wind at her back.

“Okay. Start talking.”

“Well, what do you want to know, exactly? And do I just tell you things while you sit there and I have to guess about you?”

“Oh, now you’re getting into the act, I see. I suspect someone’s stalling.”

“Not stalling, just… like I said, it’s a long story.” His hands demanded something to do, and he busied them by straightening the collar of his jacket and pushing his hair out of his face again. “That out there…. Can you see that island? The one just past the edge of where Bristol and Warren meet up?”

She turned around, and he immediately had to fight to keep his eyes on the line of her throat. Still, it was a good throat.

“I think so. Sort of in the direction of Warwick? I thought that was Warwick?”

“No, Warwick’s on the other side. That’s Wolfshead Island. Where my grandfather retired. Technically my dad owned the place out there after he died, but we never went there much after that. It wasn’t a topic we ever discussed, but… when I was a kid, I’d spend hours in the old man’s library. It was my home and my safe place whenever we’d visit there, even though I had to tolerate the wheezing and the muttering. He wasn’t a very nice person, my Papas.” He fought back the urge to pace. “He used to tell me stories. Stories about his life. Before he died, he would sit there and just go on these rants, trying to spit the details of his life out before he died. My dad didn’t really get along with him and my mom hated him, so it was just me and him.”

“What did you talk about?”

“The war. He was in the Army when they went into Germany, a doctor. He was one of the first ones to go into the camps. He would tell me things he’d seen.”

“How old…”

“I was ten when he died.” He didn’t need to see her to know what look she might have had on her face. “Yeah, I know. He also told me about his first time with a French prostitute and about stitching people up after they’d had their legs blown off, too. Near his death, he didn’t have any respect for the idea that you should wait to tell kids thing when they’re old enough, since he knew he wasn’t going to be here for it. Or maybe he just didn’t give a crap anymore. If he ever did, which I couldn’t tell you either.” He finally just sat down on the blanket facing her, sliding his hands down under his legs and looking around himself to avoid looking at her.

“So you lived out there for a while?”

“No, we just visited all the time. I guess my dad lived there for a while as a kid, I’m not sure. I don’t know much about the family from before I was born.”

“Most people don’t. I don’t.” She ran a hand along the sand at the edge of the blanket and he watched as she traced a triskelion with her fingers. “My mom died when I was eight, and my dad hung out another nine years before checking out himself… so I’m more or less on my own for the whole family deal.”

“Oh.” He swallowed, wishing for some water. “Mind if I ask?”

“More delaying tactics.” She smiled gently. “No, I don’t mind talking about it. I was eight, like I said. I don’t really remember much of it… I was in bed, sleeping, and apparently my mom and dad were in the basement trying to get the pilot light lit or something like that, and there was something flammable down there that was leaking and it got lit and then everything was on fire. My mom ran up the stairs to get me, fell down and hit her head. Dad had to carry her out, then come back in and get me. I remember that. We had to climb out the window because by then there was too much smoke in the house. She died that night. Just one of those things. Dad died a lot slower… mostly drinking. He just stopped, and it took a few years for the inertia of life to wear off, I guess.” She shrugged her shoulders, leaned back on the blanket and looked at him. “I guess when I got into card reading and ouija boards and eventually, other things, it was because I was pissed. Back then I was really angry about the whole lack of fairness of it. Probably wanted to try and get mom back for long enough to talk Dad into getting off of the couch, putting the Seagrams away.”

“I’m… I hate it when I talk about my parents and someone says that they’re sorry.”

“Yeah, I hate that, too.” She looked out over the water, where the green of the bay and the white of crashing waves met with the faint brown of wet sand and the lighter, brighter creep of drift blown about in a slower reflection, dunes for waves. “So now you tell me a little more about you instead.”

“The reason I don’t have a name is because I gave it away.”

“Gave it away? How do you do that?”

“I… my mother and father died in a car crash. Guy crossed the dividing line at high speed, trying to pass someone else, and ran headlong into their car. If that island weren’t in the way I might be able to see the spot from here.” His hands tangled up in the blanket while he managed to keep his voice level, looking down at a faint scar on the back of his right hand. “I didn’t take it well. I decided I wasn’t going to accept it.”

She was cradling her chin with her left hand, her body curled up with her legs arranged so that her left arm rested on her right knee, watching him as he spoke. Somehow it unhitched his brain, so that the words came rolling out.

“I found a way to bring them back. I cobbled together a spell, contacted something… I don’t know what it was… and traded away my name for their lives. But it didn’t work right. I wasn’t careful enough. The problem with dealing with these things is, even when they tell the absolute truth, they’re playing games with us. My parents were cremated when they died, but I figured that wasn’t a problem, I had the ashes, I found magic that was supposed to work. I mean, it’s magic. It should be able to make the ashes into bodies again, right?” He twitched, remembering. “And it did. It did make the ashes into bodies… but the funeral home was cutting corners on the cremations.”

“Oh.” She furrowed her forehead looking up at him. “You mean, like burning several bodies at once?”

“And then just shoveling the cremains from joint cremations into an urn and presenting them to you, yeah.” He wanted desperately to shut up, but her expression, and the memory that she’d been willing to share with him, kept him talking. Sitting across from her he watched the ends of her hair waving in the wind in time with the waves behind her. “I brought horrible things back from the dead. One of them had my father’s face, another my mother’s eyes, but there wasn’t… they were just collections of parts. I had to…”

She touched his foot with her hand.

“You don’t have to tell me any more.”

“Thank you.” He choked back something that made his whole chest feel like it was broken and full of springs going off, cranked too hard. “So, anyway, that was when I lost my name. It turned out that the other thing… the power… was sort of the flip side of it. Like, lose your name, borrow new ones. I don’t know how to explain it. After the… after that, I started figuring it out. I needed a place to live and a way to make money, so I turned to magic, and it didn’t take long to figure out what I was good at. There’s a lot of dabblers like your friend Stuart who cause problems that need solving. The occasional real problem, too. I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”

“I can tell you why.”

“Oh?” He leaned back and looked at her from hooded eyes. “So tell me.”

“I think you know.” She uncoiled from her crouched position and was lying on her stomach, her hands folded together under her chin, almost faster than he could watch. Not quite, however, and he most certainly did watch. “Do you date much?”

“No. Kind of hard to when you can’t tell people your name or phone number.”

“Can’t you just make up a name?”

“No. It’s… I can say that someone should call me something, but I can’t pretend it’s my name. I guess it’s part of the whole deal. I could say ‘Call me Steve’ and that would be fine, but if you thought of me as Steve, then you would immediately be unable to remember it.”

“Really?”

“Seriously. Give it a shot. Call me Steve.”

She opened her mouth to do it and the word was just gone from her head. He watched the consternation play across her features, the usually it was just on the tip of my tongue feeling deepening into true confusion. Then she broke out into a rather huge and unexpected grin, her teeth sliding past her lips as she laughed, eyes wide and flashing.

“Holy shit, that’s great.”

“It is?”

“Well, not for you, no. But it’s real. I really can’t call you Steve.” She blinked, her smile getting wider. “And the second I stopped trying to call you Steve, there it is in my head again. That’s amazing.”

“You’re not bothered by that at all?”

“I’ve been working magic since I was twelve. Why would it bother me? This is even better than the night I tried to summon Erzuli.” She smiled again, that wicked smile from the car. “Although that night was pretty freaking amazing, too.”

“I’d bet.” He felt odd, like he was suddenly feverish, his face all hot. He ran a hand along his forehead and she laughed, a deep laugh that caught his attention and made the burning sensation trail down his neck.

“You’re actually blushing. You’re shy.

“I’m not shy. I’m just reserved.”

“That’s bookworm for shy. I should know, I’m one.” She was grinning again as she rolled onto her back on the blanket, the crux ansata on her shirt upside-down from his angle. He made himself look away, but he still felt like she’d seen him look. “This is really amazing.  The way you talked to Stuart, I figured you had to be this gigantic tightass, born with a stick up where sticks aren’t supposed to go. To be honest, I thought you’d be painful as hell to ride with.”

“Then why offer?”

“Like I said, the glowing thing. And once we were in the car you displayed signs of a personality. And you’re tall.” Lying on her back and craning to look up at him where he sat, her hair was like a halo around her face, and he kept having to force himself to keep from watching her tongue run around her light pink lips when it did. “I like tall guys.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s enough. And if you were being honest with yourself, you like the way I look, too. You keep sneaking looks enough. Which is okay… if I didn’t want you to look, I wouldn’t be arching my back like this while lying here.”

“Yeah, I like the way you look.” He lay down on his side. “And I suppose I even like being asked about myself.”

“All men do.”

“As opposed to women, who are so damn reticent to share their opinions on things. If only we could get them to open up and tell us how they feel. Except when we piss them off, because if there’s anything in the world more fun than having to guess what we did wrong, I don’t know what it is.” He smirked when she smacked him on the arm, which was the only part of him in reach of her.

“It’s called being mysterious. It’s what keeps you coming back.”

“I think we universally hate it, and if anything, we come back in spite of it.”

“Yeah. It’s probably more like you desperately navigate the mine field in hopes of sex, huh?” She rolled over onto her stomach again, her face a foot away. “You’re blushing a little again.”

“Am I?’

“Yeah. Right here.” She ran her right hand across his cheek lightly. “Am I really embarrassing you?”

“Not too terribly.” He reached up and touched her hand with his, just feeling her skin against his palm and his cheek. “What are we doing?”

“I’m throwing myself at you. You didn’t notice?” The smile that made her face look predatory came back, her teeth visible past the light pink line of her lips. She had one crooked tooth that looked like a fang on the right, a small fragment of asymmetry that drew him a little closer to her. “You’re supposed to notice these things. Not many women would be kind enough to just tell you outright what was going on, you know.”

“I’m surprised to find that any woman would.” They were facing each other on the blanket now, coming together like a capital L. He wondered when they’d gotten so close. He could actually feel a bit of the warmth of her face. “Isn’t there a rule against that in the membership book?”

“I didn’t get mine. Some mix up at HQ, I guess.” She was close enough now that her face filled his whole field of vision, the dark blue of her eye make-up contrasting with the smoky green of her eyes.  “You know, you really should…”

He felt like his head was yanked forward by gravity. He slid forward, rolling slightly on his hip and brought his mouth against hers, pulled there or pushed there, he couldn’t tell. He felt awkward and anxious, entirely out of practice, just trying to remember how it had felt to kiss and not really sure he was getting it right. Then she opened her mouth and ran her tongue along his lip and his mouth opened and he didn’t care if he was getting it right anymore as her hands came around to grip his head and her body leaned into his.

He only started to think again once she broke away to lean her forehead against his and breathe into his face, the warm air against his numb lips. Her eyes were huge, all he could make out.

“… kiss me soon.” She was still holding the back of his head. “That was… really… just perfect. That was… yeah.”

He broke out into a full-fledged idiot grin and knew it, and didn’t care. His own breathing sounded loud in his ears. Her forehead was warm against his, and her chest was pressed into his, both of them sideways on the blanket now. She slid a hand down to grip his hip and the motion caused his own hand to curl around her, finding rest in the small of her back, pulling her slightly to lie more flush against him. He could feel his fingers shaking a little.

“Yeah. That was… I just had to.”

“No complaints.” She played with his mouth and chin with her hand, and he was mildly disappointed that it wasn’t tangled in his hair anymore. “I was starting to wonder if you were going to or not.”

He leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers again, just enjoying the feeling of her skin and smell of her so close to him, the sensation of the tiny hairs on their faces passing each other. She arched against him while he did, bringing the rest of them closer together, and he realized she could easily feel his erect cock through his jeans. He almost pulled away, but her hand on his hip kept him in place and she laughed very softly at how wide his eyes got.

“Yes, I know you’re hard.” She ground a little into him, laughing a deep, quiet rasp purr at the spreading flush across his face. “I even like that you’re hard.”

“Then you must be ecstatic right now, because I feel like I could drag nails out of old wood.” He rocked himself forward without knowing he was doing it, pressing more fully up against her, while feeling the wind start coming in from over the water and the skin on his face and hands growing colder. She leaned in to kiss him again, parting his lips with her tongue, sliding it around his tongue and brushing it against his lips, and he copied her as best as he could with her weight pressed against his erection and her breasts flattening against his chest. His hand was at the back of her neck, sliding along the faint hairs and soft skin, and he rolled fully onto his back to let her press down atop him, his hips bucking against her.

“Wait.” He heard himself talking and didn’t understand why. It seemed intensely stupid to be talking. “Hold on a second.”

“Okay.” She panted, and the idea that he was affecting her nearly wiped out any consciousness he had in a surge of growling, panting touching and kissing and… he shook his head to stop the train of thoughts. “What?”

“What are we doing?”

“I think that’s kind of obvious…”

“No, I mean, where’s this going? Are we going to… I mean, out here?”

“Well, there’s no one around.” She looked side to side and then favored him with that grin that pressed buttons in the base of his brainstem, the ones that said override. “We could.”

He was very aware of the weight of her body pressed on top of him, how he could easily…

“I’ve not… I mean, I have but not so… I don’t have a lot of…”

“Hey. It’s okay if you’re nervous.” She smiled, shifting a little to relieve pressure, and ran a finger on his chest. “How many girls have you been with?”

“Four.” He let his head drop so as to not look at her, which made thinking easier. “Kym and Beth before I went to England, Aline there, and Evvie once I got back. Four.” He could feel that heat along his face again, which distracted him from the urge to roll over and pin her to the blanket with his body and feel her pressed up against him again.

“Okay. So I’m probably going a bit fast for you.”

“A bit.” He yelped and snapped his head back up to look at her when he felt her hand brush across his pelvis, stopping at his cock.

“Hey, if I’m not going to see it, I at least wanted to get to feel it.” She grinned at him again and slid lower, resting her head on his chest. “I could take care of that for you, if you wanted.”

“Oh, I want. Believe me, if want were all that was involved I’d have you on your back with your thighs around my waist.”

“Mmmm.” She brought her hand up off of him, which allowed for a touch more clarity of thought. “Sounds good to me. But I can wait, if you want.”

“I just need a bit more time than a day to be comfortable with it.” He dropped his head onto the blanket and breathed in and out, letting himself drift on the euphoria of arousal, feeling his diaphragm lift her up with each breath. “I hear myself saying these words and cannot believe they’re coming out of me.”

She laughed, louder than before but just as deep, the vibration of it flowing into him from along his sternum where her head lay.

“It’s okay. It’s interesting for me.”

“How so?”

“Well, usually by now I’m wiping up semen off of my leg or finding a place to toss a spent condom.”

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