Our eyes locked with guarded expressions, both trying to manage a detached disposition. Chanelle assessed my body language with a tight smirk, I picked up on a devious ambiguity to her otherwise innocent demeanor. Scrutiny pinched her dark gaze as I reached for one of the index cards neatly lining the granite counter, our eyes still locked. My heart jumped a bit at the thought of what I might dredge up. Please for the love of God.. When the card was finally an inch from my nose is when I glanced down sharply at the playful lettering in glittery pink gel. “Fuck.”
Chanelle grinned knowing full well I just damned myself for the hour. “I’ll get started on the register, loser.”
“Fan-fucking-tastic.” I mumbled, waving both middle fingers wildly. Miffed I’d ended up stuck with cleaning duty for the third day in a row. The restaurant was empty and always had a stagnant odor permeating the atmosphere after close. It wasn’t a hang out for the elite, in other words. In addition to cleaning vomit off the floors and scrubbing stains out of fabrics, (I condemned whoever decided to decorate a pub with a substantial amount of cloth), I had to deal with this particular crowd on a Saturday night. Not ideal in any sense of the word.
Chanelle brought in enough attention as it was, with her giant eyes and doe like features she could coddle a petulant feral with ease. The second some brute decided to get even a little beligerante with our girl, there was no doubt another carnal would step in to come to the rescue. The customers loved her high pitched squeaks and aloof personality. Tonight didn’t prove much different, but the moment some guy tossed a pickled egg down my shirt, everyone decided it was party time. The atmosphere shifted to a drunken daycare. From then on every encounter was arduous and irritating, getting dollar bills thrown my direction, getting sandwiched between patrons and of course having to listen to their distressing tales of the one that got away, a glimmer of hope burning in their gazes while eying me fervently, even cautiously.
While Chanelle mustered up the gallant and bold, I drew in a different kind of crowd. She’s the sun while I’m the moon I suppose, her tiny physique and button face contrasts wildly to my voluptuous build and resting bitch face. Her big brown eyes beg for security while mine scream moxie and speculation. Blue black hair that rippled slightly down to my waist, light blue cat eyes that could pierce diamond as Gammy would say, and a pallor to make it all pop. I was the Witch of White Bluff and I secretly found delight in the title. The attention it brought however was debatable.
After scraping gum below near every damn table in the place, I wound a finger in Chanelles hair gingerly and traced my index down the nape of her neck, smiling when goosebumps formed. She turned around and let out an exasperated sigh, “You may as well start cleaning out the toilets, Mickey. And sanitize your fuckin’ hands before you touch me you mutt.” Her smirk had a tinge of aversion. She’d expressed her hostility toward same-sex relations and it only beckoned me. I’d say love over hate was the goal. Antics ultimately, she was too close minded for my liking.
“Fun and games, Cheeky.” She smiled at the nickname I branded her with. As far as the customers were concerned, Cheeky may as well have been on her birth certificate. Thankfully she preferred it that way. We take what we can get in the anonymity department. My name’s actually Michelle, though I was known as Mickey within the confines of this hell-hole.
“Well cut it the fuck out.” She jabbed.
She rolled her eyes and grabbed the keys off of table two, swinging the key ring around her tiny manicured finger. “If only I could lock your ass in here.”
“No one can lock up the Witch of White Bluff.” My hands were tiny pistols now, pewing left and right.
All I could muster was a shrug. It was almost midnight and It’d been my fourth night in a row.
She giggled as she opened the door and I swallowed the cold air in frantic gulps, instantly chattering. I was never too fond of the cold, for some reason I could never adapt to it. We gave each other a once over before saying our goodbyes for the night. I blew a kiss in her direction and she wrinkled her nose and gave me a half-wave.
“Why don’t you send one my way?” A voice I didn’t recognize. One that gripped me like a vice. One moment my anxieties weren’t a factor, then I was punched in the gut by a set of eyes I’d never truly decipher. He was sitting in a car smoking what I assumed was a blunt. From what I could see, his bone structure was marvelous, curly brown hair draped his shoulders and his eyes seemed almost aloof. Somehow I sensed a man who was on the verge of being unhinged.
“Mickey, you’re gonna get yourself in trouble by the looks of it.” Cheeky snapped me back into reality for a brief moment. I hadn't even glanced in her direction.
He was driving a 69 Toyota 2000GT, one of my favorite models. “Anyways, I gotta head home, I need a joint and my snuggie immediately.” I gave her a quick hug and started towards my car. My BMW Cabriolet was my baby and I couldn’t wait to hop in and warm up, first I mustered up the courage to sneak another glance in the pretty boys direction. To my relief and disappointment, he was gone. I blew out a huff of warm air into my palms and stepped into the car. The feeling he incited brought back a wave of disorienting nostalgia. That was the kind of feeling I got as a kid when I experienced my first crush. An all encompassing sense that made your skin tingle and your stomach lodge in your throat. What the fuck was that? Schmaltz and anxiety, I concluded. The only feelings I could clearly identify.
I plugged the auxiliary cord into my phone so I could listen to Pandora. I went to the Growlers station and let Mac Demarco go on about his kind of woman. Driving at night was always one of my favorite things to do in Tennessee, thanks to the warm lights and the lush landscape. While easing to a halt at a stop light, I lit a cigarette and tilted my head back letting out a sigh as I typically do for no damn reason at all.
“Something bothering you?” That voice made my heart lurch and my stomach drop. I dropped my cigarette and instantly felt it burn the inside of my thigh which of course made me screech and bounce around like a fucking maniac. Once the butt was out the window I glanced threateningly in the voices direction. Fuck. I knew it was the same guy but I wasn’t in any mood to assess the situation with rational thought. The second I looked his way the anger vanished and I felt the tidal wave once again. He was watching me intently, eyebrow cocked with a bemused expression.
“You scared me.” I said breathlessly. There he was, the guy could be a psychopath for all I knew and he still had a groundbreaking effect on me. I instantly detested him. “Why won’t this light turn green?!” I was irate once again thanks to the lack of control I could muster in his presence.
“Doesn’t bother me any.” I could hear a smile in his silky smooth voice. The vibrations reverberating from his chest were making my libido pulsate. I turned my glare towards him and managed to hold it with great effort.
A walking, talking reverie. His eyes permeated the darkness with their own obscurity, bone structure that made me envision Jim Morrison straddling his microphone during his reign, a pout that made me parched and drenched. I could feel my gaze widening and it couldn’t be helped. Finally, the red in my peripheral shifted to green and I gunned it, trying to escape his eerie presence.
When I entered my apartment, Lola weaved in and out of my steps, curling her tail around my leg once I’d reached the counter. “Hey baby girl.” I cooed, tickling behind her ears and along her spine. She chirped an adorable meow while stretching towards me. This Maine coon was my angel, so loving. Lola was probably the only being I felt a connection with at that point in time, always displaying adherence in the most discreet ways possible, that’s all she was limited to, being a cat and all. I’m sure if she were human, she would display all the characteristics I wished in another sentient being, but I’m sure that’s what every pet owner would like to believe. But being a sentient, candid person comes with a set of rules that distort our sense of morality no matter the situation. Everyone’s a snowflake as they’d like to think. I prefer to hold onto the belief that everyone’s more alike than they’d like to admit.
Maybe I’m a fanatic when it comes to my little love, Lola. People are hard to trust and that’s the inevitable, I’d come to comprehend. Simply a matter of experience. I realized I was heading towards crazy cat lady territory and it really hadn’t bothered me at the time.
I crossed my legs on my funky leopard-print stool between zebra-print and giraffe-print seats, behind my cluttered wooden counter. I blew out a deep breath as I rummaged through the mail, tossing bills aside until I found what I’d been looking for. Her handwriting was a bit shaky and I felt a little nauseous as I ripped the envelope open. My younger sister was always getting herself into deep shit but felt asking for help was gutless, she abhorred the very thought.
“Besides,” she’d always say, “what’s life without a little danger?” Katherine irked me to no end but her tenacity and wits always left me grinning at the thought of my favorite wild child. I was smiling nervously as I read this month’s latest issue.
Columbia is fucking bonkers. Just like you said it’d be, but we both knew that, of course. There’s so much to learn around here though, it was like we entered a whole other realm. We as in Hunter and I… you said I shouldn’t go alone so I don’t want to hear any backlash. You got my anxiety going when you mentioned the maximum sentence here… and that little lesson on femicide didn’t help either. Well, we both know Hunter’s our best bet at keeping me safe in a place like this. I’ve seen enough battered women for a lifetime. However it really is beautiful when you venture to the right places, I haven’t been to a country that’s proven me otherwise yet. We went to San Andres! The beaches were beautiful, we got plastered and danced until we couldn’t feel our legs… or faces. We’re going to snorkel in Isla De Providencia, I looked online at their reefs and I’m beyond excited. Wish you could join us, Mick. Hunter sends his regards… I love you big sister! We’ll see each other soon!
I was gritting my teeth by the end of it and felt anger bubble in the pit of my stomach. I met Hunter five years earlier at the tender age of eighteen, just two years younger than when he met Katherine. He was very easy on the eyes, with a sculpted face, tan skin from his Romani lineage, gold eyes with flecks of green and yellow. He decided I was to his liking then wined and dined me to no end, often getting plastered in the process and leaving behind a trail of destruction. It never mattered, however. He had the money to pay off whoever he managed to provoke. My interest turned into revulsion when I’d entered his condo to find him balls deep in a woman I’d no recollection of. There was a rolled up hundred dollar bill between his index and thumb and a white line along her spine. Both of their noses had been stained with his drug of choice.
“There’s room for one more, Mickey.” His devious smile was putrid and arrogant as opposed to the careless, sensual aura I’d admired. The woman eyed me curiously as I made my way towards the mirror on the counter, I smirked in their direction and Hunter beamed with excitement. I frisbee’d the mirror directly at his face, slicing his forehead. Then I grabbed a bottle of Ciroc and calmly walked out.
“Cocky bitch.” Was all he had to say.
I thought that would be the end of that but somehow Katherine caught his eye while venturing in ‘her line of work’. I knew better than to ask any further, it wasn’t so much a liability considering Kat never really divulged into other people’s concerns or feelings. She was a bit shallow, using guys to her advantage while they did the same to her. Of course I didn’t enjoy the thought but it was her choice, she honestly enjoyed it for some god-forsaken reason. I also knew that nothing anyone could say or do could hurt her. She was always that way, fearless and fierce. So it didn’t surprise me one bit that Hunter was interested in the rebellious beauty that was Katherine. She was bound to attract men like him no matter where she went in life. Danger attracts danger.
Their line of business however, made me quite uneasy.
I wrote back ignoring the mention of Hunter, telling her to keep her eyes peeled while enjoying her stay. I also felt compelled to ask when she was planning on coming back, though she never seemed to discuss that particular subject, always the same “We’ll see each other soon!” Who knows who or what she was running from.
I tried to put that thought aside as I sifted through the bills and felt my unease return. Bills, bills, bills. Working as a waitress isn’t the most lucrative but it’s got its perks, mainly during season. If only the tips flowed so generously all year round. After paying for rent, insurance, and some lab work after a check up, I had around two hundred dollars left in my account. I groaned and headed towards the balcony, grabbing my snuggie and my stash box along the way. I slid the door open and was instantly hit with the scent of some stanky weed.
I was confused considering my older neighbors didn’t partake. They didn’t mind either. Ruby told me the scent gives her a sense of nostalgia but she prefers edibles now, thanks to an incessant, rather inevitable cough.
I peered below from the second floor, there were no lights on below, so I could only see a slight shadow from the moonlight. It could’ve been anything really, so I decided to sit down and relax on my hammock. I dug through the box and pulled out a pre rolled joint to toke on. I let the smoke fill my lungs while my head cleared bit by bit. I started humming quietly to myself, wondering what Kat was up to.
All I could really visualize was her junior high school photo, “Like a budding goddess.” That’s what Ma used to say about all of our high school photos, but every time I pictured Kat, the goddess Ate came to mind. The goddess of mischief and ruin. Wandering with glee after causing some poor cretin grief or strife, while knowing exactly what he was getting himself into. I tried to push the thought of her aside, knowing I’d probably end up in a frenzy of nerves.
I felt embers singe into my fingertips, it allowed me to focus on what was in front of me for a moment. Hissing replaced my thoughtless hum, I quickly tossed the roach in the ashtray beside me. The strawberry scented candle I’d lit moments ago glowed vibrantly and I focused in on it as the flame slowly licked upwards in short spurts. I suddenly felt a fire grow in the pit of my stomach as it somehow reminded me of that weird guy. Deviant or not, he had an effect on me, that’s for sure.
I rubbed my eyes with my fists, pursing my lips mid-rub when I realized my makeup was definitely smeared. I got up to wash my face and brush my teeth. When I’d blown out the candle, I heard a husky purr below and froze. That was definitely the buzz of man’s throat, and he carried on where I’d left off when I’d burnt my fingers. I’d just noticed the song I’d mindlessly hummed moments ago, Your Sweet Touch by Bahamas.
“Time means so much, if all I have, is your sweet touch.
And so it goes, and so it goes…”
I shut my eyes and swayed a bit as every inch of my being tingled in response to the sumptuous melody. His voice held me in a vice grip, it rumbled low in his chest and came out a smooth baritone. Then my thought process geared a bit and I immediately snapped my eyes open and felt tension replace that tingly sensation. What the fuck was this guy doing here? Under my balcony for Christ Sake!
Anger and fear gnashed inside and I barked out to compensate, “I know the make and model of your car and I remember that face of yours very well. If you come near me again, you’ll have the pleasure of meeting someone much more… intense than a local officer.” The menace dripping from my tone couldn’t be mistaken, the threat actually had some backbone to it. Kat and I were the babies. Bobby and Malcolm were brutes, and they would protect their family no matter the situation through their means only. My brothers were in another domain. When I said they were brutes, I meant it. Their mentality matched their appearance. I say appearance because they’re identical twins through and through and this world was not prepared. Their intellect, temperament and mindset, not to mention their sheer size, times two? The world is theirs and they know it.
Back to the matter at hand. A strange man I’d only just caught a glimpse of a few hours prior is now sitting below my property singing love songs I pulled out of my ass. He was chuckling softly and I heard something a bit manic linger beneath the throaty baritone. “No need. I belong here just as much as you do.”
The anger was dissipating quickly into something else, I didn’t want to think of it however, so I opted for exhaustion. It was almost 2:30 in the morning and I had to work a double the next day. I sighed and opened the sliding glass door propping one Hello Kitty slipper on the wood flooring before glancing to the side.
“I better not be your next victim.” I mumbled wearily, knowing my voice echoed enough to reach his ears. He just giggled some more. I slammed the door shut behind me and locked every window and door in the apartment. Suffice to say I didn’t get much sleep that night.
I awoke to Lola’s customary chirps. She was ready for attention, but mostly food. I scratched behind her ears gingerly and kissed her forehead when she booped her head against my face. The memory of the night before kicked in as Lola hopped off the bed towards the kitchen and I froze. The paranoia that comes with being confronted by a stranger in the dark just out of range was gone now that the sun crept it’s way through my lilac curtains. Now I was just miffed. There may have been a reason he was within the vicinity. He’d mentioned he belonged there at the time. But what got under my skin was the fact that he didn’t even attempt to ease my train of thought when given the opportunity.
I decided it’d be best to stay on guard for the time being, at least until I knew his presence didn’t entail some sort of threat. Opening the drawer on the nightstand beside me, I pulled out one of the few toys I had stashed away. It was a chrome butterfly knife Malcolm got for my eighteenth birthday. I’d fidgeted with it ever since and was now quite nimble with my fingers. I’d just been hoping it was an alright defense mechanism if it came down to it.
I got out of bed, threw on some faded skinny jeans and a black polo that complimented my figure. I clipped the knife inside the waistband to conceal it, slipped on a pair of Converse and applied black eyeliner above my lids, then dashed on some mascara. After brushing my hair and teeth, Lola began scratching my yoga mat, knowing damn well I didn’t like it. I put wet food in her bowl and pat her head before leaving.
When walking down the steps of the apartment complex, the door below my balcony had opened and out popped Ruby looking as chipper as I’d ever seen. She beamed in my direction and I beamed right back, looking forward to some pleasant small talk.
“Michelle! There’s my pretty little lady. I didn’t get to see you yesterday. I had to wake up rather early.” She still looked as vibrant as ever, her hands were wrapped around a mug I’d never seen before, beautiful handcrafted ceramic, with an uneven rim, splashes of cold colors and a glaze that made it shine beneath her deep purple manicure.
“I definitely missed your smile, Ruby, I’m sure it would’ve made a difference yesterday.” My smile twitched as a flash of the man from yesterday branded itself, yet my eyes still lingered on that mug.
“Is that so?” Her voice sounded a bit sympathetic, “You like it? My son gave it to me as a gift, it’s from Mali.”
Africa? The mention of her son peaked my curiosity, she never brought up her kin before. My eyes widened and I took a closer look at Ruby, her hair was silver, smooth and curly. Those curls looked familiar. I looked thoughtfully at her features, and saw it. Her eyes. They were the same almond shaped, piercing eyes I’d seen the night before. Her gaze widened when my mouth fell open in shock. I was starting to feel like an idiot.
“What’s wrong, hon?” Ruby sounded earnest yet flustered, probably concerned I was losing my mind.
I didn’t spot the car anywhere and sighed in relief. Finally I met her gaze once again and it’d popped out of my mouth before even thinking. “Does your son drive a Toyota?” I was silently chastising myself for being so crass, but my gaze remained firm and inquisitive.
Ruby didn’t seem to mind this time. “Yes! That’s one of his. He has a taste for classic models. His Father left behind a bit of work for him in our backyard when he was younger and he found a passion in fixing up junkers.” Her eyes twinkled. She’d obviously loved him immensely. “I’m not surprised you noticed him, he’s been turning heads since he popped out.”
“I’ll give you that, Ruby.” I let out a sigh and wondered whether or not I should make an attempt to apologize to the guy. Ruby began to giggle slightly, hinting that she knew something I didn’t. “What are you laughing at?” I pinched my nose at her while she began gesturing towards her seat. Wait. Two seats were now placed below my balcony. My face reddened, realizing she’d heard me threaten her son.
“I think he inherited my cryptic sense of humor. I wanted to say something but the delight in his expression when you quipped back so quickly was too much. He was grinning like a maniac, Michelle, that was the first time the boy blushed as far as I know.” Her smile was warm, appreciative. “Didn’t know you had it in you, to be quite honest. You’re a bit intimidating.”
My face was on the verge of turning purple. What the hell was this? “You’re a bit intimidating yourself if that’s your sense of humor.”
She chuckled softly and sighed, “I’m off to pick up my ‘prescription’.” Ruby was constantly picking up weed for her recipes despite always buying in bulk. She put it in everything she consumed, mainly for the pain she often felt through a severe arthritis.
I gave her a wink and spun on my heels, still feeling the heat radiate from my cheeks. What the hell is going on with me? I’m armed for fuck’s sake, he’s Ruby’s son! My steps hastened towards the staircase, returning to put my knife back where it belonged. My mind was still reeling, not knowing whether or not to be pissed at the guy for being so damn creepy. I chuckled nervously as I jerked the flimsy door open, and ran to my room, quickly returning the blade. I was getting a little anxious knowing I may be late for work, I swung the door open fiercely and my gasp surprised me more than his presence at this point. Again my stomach lodged in my throat as my greedy gaze raked him in. I’m sure I resembled a lobster.
His smile was lazy and his eyes were on fire. When my eyes met his gaze, it looked as though he was slowly taking me in. Surveying from head to toe. I hate him. My thoughts and my body were contradicting one another and my head started to spin. Finally he met my gaze and his smile spread into a devious grin. Seeing his face close up had me feeling as though I was on the verge of fainting. “I’m going to assume you’re trying to get my attention.”
“You are correct.” That voice. My body tensed.
“Seeing as there’s a beautiful woman just above my mother’s humble abode, I decided it’d be a good time to greet the neighbors. I hadn’t introduced myself.”
“You were too busy toying with me instead.”
The gold flecks in his eyes flashed a vibrant yellow and my jaw dropped.
“I don’t mind the thought, if I’m being honest. I wasn’t, however. Toying with you. Simply a happy coincidence.” The humor in his tone made my body go rigid. I was ready to crawl out of my skin.
“Look, Ruby’s cool. I don’t know you, judging by how pernicious you’ve been acting I don’t want to. I have to get to work.” I took a step around him and felt a tickle on my scalp like someone had just grabbed a lock of my hair and let it slip between their fingers. When I felt it caress my neck my breath caught and goosebumps formed.
“See you soon.” I felt his eyes bore into my back as I practically sprinted outside.
As I sat behind my steering wheel I let out a rush of air I hadn’t known I’d been holding in. He still hadn’t introduced himself.