“Colin.” Mary stood outside the back door, wearing gray shorts and a white t-shirt that both begged to be touched. “Are you going to invite me in?”
“If this is official business, I don’t see how I have a choice.”
She pushed her braids back. “You always have a choice.”
“Well, why did you choose to come here?”
“I thought that a week would be enough time for you to calm down and stop being a whiny baby about everything.”
“You came here to insult me. You insult me by thinking I need your protection and then you insult me directly. Got it. I’m not interested. If this is work related, you can call me and we’ll meet in a public place.” He blocked the doorway with his body, holding the door with one hand and the frame in the other. If she wanted to break up, she could deal him like anyone else.
“You’d have to unblock my number for that to work,” she said calmly. “You never debriefed me on the last job. You made a hell of a mess.”
“Sorry for breaking protocol. You also never paid me.”
“Have you checked your bank statement?”
“I don’t have a bank account.”
“Have you checked your mail lately? You do now.”
“Well, you can check with my secretary on the way out, she’ll set you up with an appointment time.” Colin started to close the door.
“Will you please let me in so we can talk?” she asked.
He stepped back to let her in. “I made a mess, you cleaned it up. It won’t happen again. We good?”
“No, we are not good. How did you let that happen?”
He explained as best he could, about panicking, and realizing he didn’t have time to think about it. He told her about the snowglobe, and the guard, and the bird. He left nothing out.
She seemed satisfied enough, and she stood to leave. “I’ll have Carmel give you the details of the next job. It’s just a human, but one who can change everything. Tell me if you want it.”
He walked her to the back door.
“You know,” she took a breath at the doorway. “I said we couldn’t be seen together, and you assumed we couldn’t be together. And you attacked me for that. I came here today hoping you’d understand why I wanted to protect you. I gave you a dangerous job just to prove that I trusted you and that I wasn’t trying to coddle you. And you attacked me for that, too.”
Colin tried to come up with a response as she stepped outside.
“I love you, Colin,” she said. “But you need to grow the fuck up.”
“Mary,” he started. He didn’t get the chance to reply. She stepped back, off the patio and disappeared as if she’d stepped off a cliff. Colin heaved a sigh and shut the door.
He paced for a few minutes, hoping she’d come back. He unblocked her phone number from both phones and cursed himself for getting drunk enough to do it in the first place. At the time, it seemed better than drunk dialing her. He picked her clothes up from the grass, folded them and put them in the linen closet with Andreus’ spare clothes.
He noticed the scarf the cashier had given him on his first night in town. This stranger, “just” a human, sensed his despair and tried to do something nice. And in return, Colin left a bag of vomit stained clothing in the trash for her to clean up. Her parents, “just” humans, had raised him. In return, he’d abandoned them. Callie, another “just human”, asked him into her life and in return he’d killed her.
He couldn’t get along with Mary’s way of thinking of humans as lesser creatures. He couldn’t think of himself as something different.
Maybe he’d jumped on the chance to split up with her. Maybe she was right, and he wasn’t listening to what she said. Maybe it was intentional. Maybe he didn’t love her back.
The pang in his chest when he had the thought told him otherwise.
He needed to get out, to be around people. He could go to a strip club, or he could try something else. He opened his clenched fist and unwrapped the scarf from it.
He needed new clothes anyway, something a little less farm hand and a little more man.
“Hey, you’re back!” The same cashier who’d given him the scarf smiled and waved when he walked in.
He smiled back, unsure whether he was living the best-case or worst-case scenario. “You remember me?”
“Of course I do,” she said. “You changed my life. And even if I didn’t recognize your face, I’d recognize that scarf.”
“I’m sorry for any problems I might have caused you.”
She flashed an embarrassed smile at the floor. “Ah, no. It worked out for the best. I spent a long time weaving that scarf. I was going to give to my boyfriend that night for an anniversary thing. But I saw your face and something just clicked for me. I realized he wouldn’t appreciate all the work I put into the scarf, because he didn’t appreciate the work I put into anything, really. So I dumped him. Thank you. If there’s anything I can help you with, I’ll be more than happy to help.”
Colin was speechless for a moment. “Thanks.”
“Anyway, my life story aside, what brings you in?”
“I need clothes, I think. It’s about time to start dressing well.”
“We have amazing stylists, we can definitely help you with that,” she said. “Do you know any styles or colors you particularly like? Even stores or brands you usually shop at?”
“I’m usually more of a department store shopper, I guess.” Almost true. He was most used to the kind of place you could get a pair of gently used jeans, a bowl of soup and a lice treatment with no questions asked, but a department store sounded much nicer.
She motioned to a woman with a tailor’s tape hanging from her neck, who immediately went from sneering over a man deciding between a red shirt and a blue one to sneering over Colin. “Do you know your measurements?”
The cashier smiled at him and walked away, saying, “Let me know if you need anything else.”
He suddenly felt like he was pitched into another dimension, one where the color of your socks dictated the color of your tie, and your shoes and belt should match except on alternate Thursdays and full moons. The stylist had a sneering face but a pleasant demeanor and after a while, another stylist joined in on the fun. They brought out cardboard color wheels to match the color of his eyes to his accessories, then matched the actual clothes to the accessories.
“Now we have options, head in there and try one of the outfits on so we can see how you feel in it.” The original stylist shoved him into a curtained closet with too many mirrors and too much light.
Something amazing happened when he put the new clothes on. He saw the payoff of farm work in his body under the stylish fitted shirts. His eyes, which he normally thought of as muddy brown or green, depending on the day, took on new depth and clarity. When he stepped out in each outfit, the stylists, cashiers, and even other customers fawned over him. They clucked and chattered and adjusted his clothes. They talked about tailoring and shoes.
Did other men know these things about clothes? Did they teach the secrets to men’s fashion in the last semester of high school? Was this something people picked up over the years? Or was it something exclusive to people like him- the people who could buy the store without flinching?
He did flinch when he paid, but the sign declaring “Our Stylists do not accept ‘tips’ for their service” answered the question he dreaded asking. He couldn’t justify the price for jeans he’d ruin at the farm, but he walked out with a new wardrobe and a new attitude.
After living a makeover montage, he laid his bags out in the trunk of his car and went for a coffee. After staring at a spinning pole for the entirety of his coffee break, he went in for a haircut.
Whoever said “clothes don’t make the man” clearly never saw the difference a shave, a haircut, and some new digs could make in the people around. People smiled at him, admired him; people looked at him. He looked like the kind of guy who could go to a normal night club, and smile and dance and buy someone a drink. He could be that guy. He should be.
A sense of creeping guilt crept through him. Callie. Henry. Millie. His skin tingled.
No. He wasn’t the kid who killed Callie anymore. He was going to go out and buy someone a drink. He wasn’t going to take anyone home. He wasn’t going to assassinate anyone. No one there would be planning any sort of genocide or apocalypse, and he could leave if it got too crowded.
He could do it.
He called Andreus for backup. “Remember back when you said you wanted to reintegrate me into society? I think it’s time. What do you think about going to a club with me tonight?”
“Sounds good, I was thinking about joining in on some St. Patrick’s Day stuff over at JE’s.”
“JE’s? I was thinking somewhere with dancing and ladies, not dusty biker dudes ready to shank me for the meth they think I’m carrying. I bought new shoes. I want to go out.”
“You’ve been gone a long time, Colin,” Andreus laughed. “I’ll meet you at the club around nine.”
“It’s not a club,” Colin said. Too late, Andreus wasn’t there anymore.