Chapter Twenty-Eight: Reseda
I trudged through the streets of Reseda with sadness hanging on my shoulders. It hung on me all the way back to the parking lot behind the abandoned theater. That was when I stopped. And saw the blue Hyundai Elantra.
I took slow steps towards the Explorer.
She emerged from behind the Explorer. She walked differently. With a strut. Sultry. Suggestive. And she didn’t say a word.
Her outfit even looked a little different. Her skirt seemed a little shorter. She unbuttoned the top buttons of her short-sleeve blouse. That was the first time I had seen her cleavage. She looked like she teased her hair.
I should have been aroused. But the vibe I usually felt around her wasn’t there. The whole thing seemed off. Especially since she sort of looked like her mom in those pictures.
She continued to strut over to me until we found ourselves face to face.
I didn’t know what to say. My gut wanted to ask her, “What are you doing here?” But I was afraid I would hurt her if I said that. I waited for her to speak.
Instead, she thrust a wadded up bunch into my hand. I held it up towards the light.
It was a bundle of rope, a folded up bandana, and a condom.
I looked up at her. Pearl stared right into my eyes.
I clutched the bundle in my hand. I understood what she wanted me to do, but I didn’t know if I should do it. This didn’t make sense to me. She didn’t make sense to me. I opened my mouth to try to speak to her. She didn’t wait for the words to come out.
“I knew it!” She turned her back to me. “You think I’m a freak!”
“Wait!” I grabbed her forearm. Her skin felt warm and soft, and her bicep felt firm. She let her hand drift behind her back. I moved close until I was right behind her. Her arm brushed against my chest and stomach.
“C’mon, Pearl. Talk to me.”
Her breathing deepened. Her breasts bobbed with each breath. She swallowed hard. “Grab my other arm and put it behind my back.”
But as I looked around the open parking lot, I started getting nervous. What if someone passed by and thought I was kidnapping her? What if they called the cops? All of this seemed super sketchy.
I let go and stepped away from her. “Let’s get in the car.”
I shoved the rope, bandana, and condom in my left pocket and reached into my right pocket for my keys. Her breathing grew heavier as I opened the lift gate. This must have been a fantasy of hers, getting tossed in the back of an SUV and getting bound and gagged by some kidnapper. And I’m supposed to be her kidnapper. But this wasn’t a role I asked to play.
She climbed into the back. I definitely saw her panties this time. She really wanted this.
And how many times did I want her? How I wanted her the last time we were in the back of the Explorer. And in the laundry room. I should have wanted her at that moment. But something definitely felt wrong.
But I closed the lift gate anyway.
The back of the Explorer felt more cramped, more heated. I had to turn on the flashlight on my iPhone so I could see her.
“Pearl, what’s going on?”
“I want you.”
“You said I can’t.”
“I can’t help myself.”
She put her hands behind her back and crossed her ankles. It was like she was showing me how she wanted to be tied up. I could picture the ropes around her, just like in the pictures of her mom. But that just made me feel more uncomfortable. And Pearl seemed to know it.
“What’s wrong, Dylan? I thought you want me. I could tell.”
I wanted her. And she knew I did. But not this way. I’ve had girls throw themselves at me. But that wasn’t who Pearl was.
I slid myself closer to her. I put my arm around her. She kept her arms tightly behind her. They seemed to tremble at my touch.
“Pearl, you know how much I like you...”
“Then what are you waiting for!?”
I looked down at her thighs. Her skirt hitched up higher as she sat. The vibe started coming back to me. But even that vibe frightened me. I looked back up at her.
“Did something happen? Was it about last night?”
Her voice was unsteady. “What makes you think anything happened?”
Her breathing got heavier. So did mine. It was getting hot in the car. Water beads popped onto the black plastic tarp.
She spoke quickly, urgently. “I told you my fuck-up was trying to be too good. I’m tired of it, Dylan. I don’t want to be good anymore. I want to be free. I want to feel safe. I want to be myself.”
My hand drifted down her arm to her wrists. I wrapped my fingers around them. I rested my other hand on her right thigh. My thumb and forefinger drifted beneath the hem of her skirt. She closed her eyes, opened her mouth, and breathed hard. I didn’t have to tie her up to make love to her. Touching her bare skin, feeling the warmth of her body and breath, seeing her so wild with passion. Sweat beaded on her skin. In the faint light of my iPhone’s flashlight, she looked like she was glistening. The vibe came back. Blood rushed inside me.
But I was feeling suffocated. The black plastic tarps were drenched with water beads. Sweat dripped off my face. I felt like I was drowning.
“Please, Dylan. You don’t know how bad I need this. Tie me up. Tie me up now! You can do anything you want to me.”
I couldn’t breathe. I had to get air. I let her go, dashed to the lift gate, and flung it open. The night air turned the sweat and humid heat into bitter cold. I sat at the edge of the bed, dangled my legs over the bumper, and leaned forward. I sucked in all the air I could, even if it made my nose and lungs hurt.
Behind me, Pearl cried, “What are you doing!?”
I turned around. She still had her hands behind her back and ankles crossed. But I couldn’t answer her until I could breathe normally again. Then I heard a whoosh of a car on the other side of the parking lot. I turned my head. A black-and-white headed down Canby. The cops probably didn’t see me. The police car disappeared behind the building on the corner.
I looked back at Pearl. Her wrists and ankles waiting for the ropes bulging in my pocket. Something came over me.
“What are you doing!?” My anger shocked me.
“I just want you to love me!”
Pearl trembled. “What do you mean? What are you saying?”
“Are you going to tell me what you’re really doing!?”
She set her hands free and waved them in front of her. “I want to make love to you! Why are you being...”
“Do you expect me to believe...”
“You’re being ridiculous!”
“I don’t know what the hell...”
We shouted over each other until I blurted out, “You’re setting me up!”
She recoiled until she pressed against the back of the driver’s seat.
“Dylan, no!” A tear glistened on her cheek. “I’d never think of...”
“Bullshit!” I snorted in anger and disbelief. “You think I’m fucking stupid, Pearl!? You think I don’t know what’s going on? You don’t think I know what you’ve been doing to me this whole time!? I do what you want me to do to you. I tie you up, I gag you, I fuck you like I’m some sort of psycho pervert. And that’s when the cops show up and bust me! I get convicted of kidnapping and rape and get locked up for 20 years or more, and you! I don’t know what the fuck you get out of this! Maybe you’re helping the good people of Reseda get rid of some homeless piece of shit!”
“Dylan! That’s not true! I need you! I--I lo...” Pearl clutched her knees to her chest and sobbed hard and loud.
Maybe she was telling the truth. Maybe she just wanted me to make love to her. Maybe getting bound and gagged like her mom on that website was the only way she could feel loved, free, and safe.
But I wasn’t feeling safe. Loving her made me feel vulnerable. The way I blew my load in my only clean pair of boxers. The way I almost suffocated being with her in my Explorer. The way the cops could have stopped by at any moment and busted me. I lived on the edge, where the slightest misstep meant sleeping in a doorway. Or trying to live on spoiled food from dumpsters. Or winding up in prison.
She may have loved me, but I was too vulnerable to love her. Especially the way she wanted to be loved.
I reached towards her. She scrunched further away and clutched her knees tighter.
“Pearl, I’m sorry I didn’t trust you, I...”
She probably couldn’t hear me through her sobs. I realized how much I humiliated her. How much I hurt her. And it made me feel worse.
“You’re not a freak, Pearl. You’re...”
I felt something wet streaming down my face. I don’t cry, not usually. But that heavy sadness bore down on me hard. I pulled the rope, bandana, and condom out of my pocket. I placed them by her feet and moved away from her.
“You’re better off without me.”
I couldn’t bear to watch Pearl leave. I just sat on the bumper and listened to her wheels against the rough, worn asphalt.
Mrs. Cimino was right. I missed Pearl the second I heard the sound of her car fade from the end of the parking lot. I must have really loved her. Now, she was gone. And there was no possible way she would ever come back. She might even have to leave Buck & Awesome if she couldn’t bear to work with me. Or I should leave. She needed the job more than I did.
I hung down my head and started at the asphalt.
“I knew you’re gonna need me someday.”
I looked up. He pulled a baggie out of his pocket. I opened the side storage compartment.