She lay spooned up against him, taut and lean, stretching almost as long as his six feet. The late afternoon light seeped through the slats in the blinds, now deep yellow and mellow, like the way he felt. Post-coital relaxed, endorphin bliss, something along those lines.
He nuzzled her hair, pale blond, always with a half-inch of dark roots. Always. He didn’t know much about these things but figured it must be harder to maintain the roots then to cover them up. He liked them; they went with her don’t-give-a-fuck-what-people-think attitude. He liked the attitude, though he was sure that it was nothing more than a cover up. Figured that underneath, she was fragile and insecure. He hugged her tight to his body.
“You should move in with me,” he said.
She stiffened in his arms, twisted to look at him.
“It’s only been a few weeks,” she said.
“I’d take care of you.”
She pulled away from him and swung her long legs over the side of the bed and sat up, away from him. He admired her lines. From the back she was like a rare alabaster sculpture, cold and perfect. He traced her spine with his fingertip. She shuddered under his touch.
“What is it with you guys?” she asked.
“What guys?” he asked.
“Men. All men. You always want to save us.” She looked over her shoulder at him. “Do I really look like I need saving?”
“Have I ever asked you for help?”
“Have I ever asked you for anything?”
“No.” He smiled. “Well, outside of bed, anyways.”
She shot an icy stare. He grinned back.
“Aw, come on baby, just jokin’ with you.” He reached for her and she swatted his hand away. Stood up and went to the window, split the blinds apart with two fingers and after a moment let them go with a metallic rattle.
She shot an annoyed look his way and headed to the bathroom. The tap creaked and water thumped against the tiled wall. He thought about joining in. A locked door told him what she thought of the idea. He slid into his jeans, threw on a wrinkled t-shirt and lit up a smoke. Sucked hard on it and wandered around the bungalow aimlessly. Saw the light flashing on his answering machine, ignored it, knew who it was and what they wanted. He didn’t have it and didn’t have much chance of ever getting it.
He settled in the kitchen to wait for her. The cigarette hissed under the thin stream of water and he abandoned the soggy butt to the crud at the bottom of the sink. The fridge was uninspiring; he stood staring at the various condiments and questionable leftovers for several minutes, considering his next move.
If he gave her more time, maybe she’d agree to move in. And then she wouldn’t be so sad and distant; he would care for her. And maybe then, his fridge would hold more than mustard and leftover Chinese food.
Or even better, could he convince her to go away with him? It was time to move on to someplace better than this. Having her by his side would make all the difference.
She dragged her hot pink nails first along his arm then across the kitchen counter. Squatted in front of the wine rack, the back of her jeans riding dangerously low. She plucked at a few bottles, replacing them after a quick examination until she settled on a nice little Barolo. He’d been saving it but, what the hell, you only live once.
“Come on,” she said, “let’s go for a ride. I’ll take you to my secret spot. We can watch the sunset.”
“Yeah. Only a very few, special people ever get to see it. Best view ever.” She grabbed a couple of glasses and a corkscrew, shutting the drawer with her hip. She glanced out the window. “We gotta get going if we’re going to make sunset.”
“Okay, just let me take a leak.”
“Meet you outside.”
The bathroom was moist and foggy from her shower. She preferred the water steaming hot. He always felt sunburned afterwards, his skin pink and tender. He tended to his business and zipped up. The bathroom was tidy. Too tidy. She usually left out her hairdryer and brush, the ones she’d bought to leave for those nights she slept over. Her toothbrush was missing from the cup. Shit. This wasn’t her moving in; this was her moving out. He’d spooked her.
She was sitting in the driver’s seat of her car when he came out.
“I’ll drive,” she said.
She drove fast. From the CD player, Buddy Guy worked magic in brotherly sympathy to the current predicament. He sat quietly, sulking, as they wound up the hills, trying to decide whether or not to mention the missing items. Decided to let her lead any conversation. They were silent for the entire trip.
She pulled to the side of the highway, if you could call it that. It was nothing more than a thin strip of underutilized, crumbling blacktop running between a high cliff on the left hand side, and thick woods on the other. They sat on a bare spot where rocks outnumbered vegetation enough to be considered a shoulder.
“Be right back,” she said.
With a careful look over her shoulder she hopped out and walked to the front of the car. She pulled back a sagging sapling, tucked it behind a larger tree. A path opened up. She climbed back into the car and it bumped and jostled forward into the wood, branches slapping the side, as though giving high fives for making it this far.
After a couple of minutes she threw it in park, grabbed a bag from the backseat and got out. He followed her down a narrow animal path until the ambient light noticeably brightened and they stepped out onto a rocky outcrop.
The world spread out before them.
Directly below lay a lush gorge, and past that the city bustled away, and past the city the deep green ocean rolled up onto the land, over and over. The sun, cloaked in pink and orange, hung waiting to dip its toes into the water.
She hopped up onto a granite ledge and pulled a blanket from the bag, carefully unrolled first the glasses and then the bottle. She spread out the blanket and sat with her legs over the side, gazing ahead as though a monarch surveying a vast kingdom. He sat beside her and uncorked the wine. He swirled his glass and watched the sunset shimmer through the Barolo’s fine legs.
“You like?” she asked.
“It’s effing incredible.”
“Everyone should see something like this at least once in their lives,” she said.
“How’d you find this place?”
“Friend of mine showed it to me.”
“Do you ever see anyone else up here?”
“The occasional coyote.”
“How many men have you brought to this place?”
That pissed him off, though he didn’t say anything.
“You’re pouting.” She dropped her eyes to the gorge below, lost in thought. “Don’t worry,” she said, “those guys are out of my life.”
Maybe that was it, he thought, this was her break-up spot. He sucked back the wine and refilled his glass. Looked her over. What was it about her, anyway? She was right; he’d known her for less than three weeks and, yet, felt an overwhelming need to shelter her, to make her happy.
The sun sank lower into the cold water.
“Why would you choose to be lonely?” he asked.
She sighed. “You’re spoiling it,” she said, pointing to the setting sun. “And I’m not lonely. I enjoy my own company.”
“Nobody likes to be alone,” he said.
“Not true. A lot of people like it, it’s just next to impossible to explain it to the rest of the world. They don’t understand.” She turned to him, her pale hair fiery orange in the fading sun. “You don’t understand,” she said. “What is it you think I need from you?”
“Companionship, a home, protection. I dunno.”
“Companionship is easy to find. Or I could get a cat. A home? I have a home, I do very well for myself. Protection? From what? Besides, I’m remarkably capable of taking care of myself. More than you know.”
This wasn’t going well.
“Then why did you hook up with me in the first place?” he asked.
“Work.” She smiled sadly. “And sex. Sex, I must admit, really is better with someone else. It was good with you.”
“It is good,” he said. He swirled his glass once and polished it off. Threw it into the gorge with a muffled curse. It disappeared into the thick green.
“Wait… work? You said work.”
“Yeah,” she sighed. “I told you, I do really well for myself.”
“Who do you work for?”
“Oh, I think you can figure it out if you try.” She leaned in close and whispered into his ear, “I’ll give you a little hint: you owe him a fuck of a lot of money.”
And then his world exploded and his gut was on fire. She pulled back from him and he looked down at the pistol in her hand. Then he looked at his own hand, the one that he’d held to his stomach; it was dark with the blood oozing between his fingers.
“I really do like to be alone, you know,” she said. Then she shoved hard and he fell from the edge, following the path of his wine glass to the gorge below.
The sun flashed green behind the endless ocean and went out.
Tanis Mallow spends endless hours skulking around the Great White North in search of creative outlets for her dark, twisted imagination and actively seeking a talented agent for her thriller, Butterflies in a Hurricane. Jersey Devil Press; Monkeybicycle; Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers and Spinetingler Magazine (pending) have picked up her stories and CrimeSpace has picked up her membership. She abhors serif fonts, especially Times Roman, and wishes that more agents and editors would accept Tahoma. [Ed. note: We accept manuscripts in any readable font you like, FYI. Just, please, no Wingdings.]