Onus Angelorum

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Ice Water

I did as Henry asked, clutched his hand in mine even though I was angry. It took a moment, but I felt cold water on my legs, and an overwhelming panic fill my mind.

“I’m looking up from total darkness, I’m pinned down, cold water is all around me. Glass is crackling on my right.” I took in an exaggerated breath. “The water is rushing in the car, slamming me into the floor. There’s gold light floating out in the blue darkness. It’s coming toward me. I’m being rescued. No, no, no, come back. It’s gone. I’m alone.” Henry pulled his hand out from underneath mine. I was aware of the restaurant again.

“That blue light was the last thing I saw before my eyesight disappeared.” Henry’s admission sounded almost reverent.

I wrapped my arms around myself and clung to my reality. I didn’t want to see Henry’s memories anymore.

“No one knows that part of the story. My uncle cut a hole in the ice and jumped into the water to pull me out.” I put my hand on Henry’s, but this time I only listened.

“Christmas party, all the parents were up at the house. Rich was in the billiards room with a few of the older girls playing grab-ass. I went to the garage to look at my uncle’s motorcycles and read my comic in peace.

“Some of the younger kids were screwing off in the cars. Hoping over the seats, pretending to drive. William went out to play with them. He carried this annoying Transformer toy that squawked this annoying script. I heard him walk out to the cars with the damn thing.

“Headlights shined into the garage. Tires were scrubbing the icy gravel. I heard the car rolling slowly down the driveway. Will cried out for Rich, but he couldn’t hear him. I ran out, hopped through the driver’s side window, slammed on the breaks. The station wagon was in neutral, but the steering wheel locked. The car slid on the frozen ground until it hit the metal guard rail.

“A few of the kids got sprains and cuts from me shoving them out the windows. The wagon was heavy. The old guard railing only delayed the inevitable. Will ran to the house and found help. My parents made it outside in time to watch the car roll over the edge of the bluff.

“My foot was on the brake. I pushed the emergency brake too, but the car went from the guard rail to the bottom of the lake in what felt like one arcing motion.

“My uncle pulled me out of the frozen water as the fire trucks from his station were rounding the first hill toward the driveway. They estimate I was out like a frozen slushy for twelve minutes.”

“I’m so sorry. Why wasn’t anyone watching those kids?” Henry laughed and took a long drink from his martini.

“Everyone was inside having a good time. It could have been worse. All those little bastards could have drowned, including William. Nobody died so.”

“Your uncle is quite a hero.”

“Family gossip says my uncle is actually my father. My mother and uncle were very close—they supposedly had a fling. Nine months later, here I am.”

“So, he jumped into a frozen river to save his son?”

“His only son,” Henry corrected.

“How Hallmark channel. Thanksgiving must be awkward.”

“Uncle Nate died on the job about ten years ago. There’s no use solving that mystery now.” Henry finished off his drink and tried to wave over the server.

“Hey, hold up. I don’t care for whiskey or martini dick. Our food should be here soon.”

Henry laughed. “Yes, Ma’am.”

The rest of our lunch conversation was light. Henry didn’t press me about how I knew things about his past anymore. I never considered how much pain Henry endured throughout his relatively short life.

Run over by a two oxen cart floated through my mind. Maybe the riddle meant strife in general, not actually being run over by livestock. My childhood was pristine in comparison. My sister and I were watched to the point of smothering.

Henry needed fresh clothes. We stopped by his place on the way back to mine. My bag, from what felt like a lifetime ago, sat waiting on his couch. An overwhelming sense of grief washed over me.

“Such a simple thing derailed what would have been a great first night for us.”

“Bah, I got to sleep next to you with a raging hard-on for days. It was oddly sexy and torturous at the same time.”

All the food in his tidy kitchen was rotten. I quickly went through the fridge, dumping everything in a trash bag, and took it out to the can.

“Al, if you want your space, it’s fine. After today I wouldn’t blame you. I invited myself to stay at your apartment to watch you recover.”

“We can stay here if you want. I don’t know Kate well, but there’s nothing of any value at my place for her to steal.”

“Ah, I forgot about Kate, but I do have a bigger, more comfortable bed.” Henry turned toward his room and then back toward me. “I don’t want to fuck anything up here. Tell me what you want, and I’ll do it.”

“Let me run home and grab some clothes, toss some towels in the washer. I’ll bring us back Chinese food for dinner later. We were planning on coming back here last weekend. I feel like we should finish our night.”

“Sounds perfect.” Henry leaned on the back of his oversized couch. I wrapped my arm around him and kissed him. He didn’t pull away from me, but he didn’t move to grab me either.

“Are we okay?”

“Yes, we are.” Henry moved off the couch and rubbed my shoulder. “Those memories are things I try hard to forget.”

“I understand. We’ll pack it all away and enjoy each other for a few days.”

Henry nodded in agreement. “I would like that.”

Arriving home to an empty apartment felt sad to me. I value my privacy but having Kate, Leo, and Henry in the small space was a welcome change.

I loaded the washer and sloppily pulled my duvet over my bed. My overnight bag was missing its zipper. The bag Malou sent home with me was sitting in the corner. I filled it with comfortable loungewear and my basic toiletries and headed downstairs.

~Henry~

The echo from my shoes on the hardwood floor accentuated how empty the room could be without her voice echoing off the walls. Her smell was gone from the air. Warm sugar and fresh-baked bread, she made me feel hungry and content all at the same time. Either she was lying to me, or Alerie could really see my past by touching my skin. How fucking insane.

I find crazy women, or maybe crazy women find me, but I don’t know what to think. I mentally inventoried all the things I left at Al’s apartment. The only item I really needed was my work laptop. Crap, my work laptop is downstairs on the bar. It’s a shit thing to do, but what if she really is crazy.

My home laptop sat unplugged for days. I took my home laptop to the living room, plugged it in and took a deep breath waiting for it to power up.

“Voice commands on, remote to laptop work, turn on microphones. Voice commands play remote audio to laptop home. Home audio, connect laptop one to Sonos one living room, play audio laptop home.”

~Alerie~

When I reached the bottom of the stairs, Leo opened the front door, almost smacking me in the face with a grocery bag in the process.

“Hey, hey, look who’s alive.” Leo gave me a long hug and kissed me playfully on the neck.

“Hey there yourself. What’s in the bag?” I stood on my tiptoes and tried to peek inside.

“Thin-cut trimmed steak and broccoli for lunch. Takes fifteen minutes.”

“I just finished lunch with Henry, but I could eat again.” I kissed Leo on the mouth quickly before taking my bag out to my car. When I returned, the frying pan was sizzling, and Leo was singing.

“You and blind guy, huh. How’s that going?”

“Oh my God, I’m in love with him. He never talks about anything real but today we really talked. We finally did the deed too. I can’t even describe to you how full and complete...”

“His dick is?” Leo interrupted.

“No, but yes. He stays hard. Like after three times, still rock hard. I wanted to bite him, but I didn’t. My mouth is so sore. It’s my neck, really and my whole jawline.”

“You blue-balled your fangs.” Leo chuckled, tossing veggies into the pan.

“I don’t have fangs.”

“Let me see your mouth.” Leo ran his finger across my front row of teeth.” Nothing sharp. Just bite me. I’ll heal in an hour.”

“No, I can’t get to that point instantly.” I flopped on the couch and arranged the side pillows.

“Fine, let me turn this pan off. I can get you to your point in thirty seconds.”

“Leo, I want to really try with this one. Henry’s different.”

“Older. I get it.” Leo pouted and returned to the stove.

“You are not going to do this now. You know I love you more than anyone on the planet.”

“Have you told him you love him?”

“God no, it’s way too soon. He already thinks I’m certifiably crazy.”

“All women are crazy.” Leo accentuated his wisdom by waiving a stock of broccoli over his head.

“This is more like clinically insane. I touched his chest and saw shit from his past. Now he thinks I’m cyberstalking him and lying about it.”

“You told him what you saw?”

“Yeah, what else was I supposed to do?”

“Keep your mouth shut, for fuck sake. You’re going to end up in the nut hut on a three-day hold.” Leo leaned on the countertop, staring. I couldn’t recall the last time I saw his seriously concerned face.

“No, as long as I don’t pose a threat to myself or others, no one can commit me.”

“I don’t know about all that but come Monday morning, we could be dead. You know that, right? We could walk into the woods and never return.” Leo pointed a meat sauced spatula at me for emphasis.

“No one but me is in danger of dying. You’ll be fine.” I hoped I was telling the truth.

“I would die for you if I needed to.” Leo looked very serious again.

“Really? Try living for me. Get whatever is broken or ripped off stitched back together and fucking live.” Leo smiled and walked toward me, slowly pulling his shirt over his head.

“Bite me.”

I remember standing up, pulling Leo to me by his shirt, but it gets fuzzy after that.

Sinking my teeth into his shoulder felt like biting into a hot, ripe lemon. There was a spark of zest followed a sour edge to the taste of his blood. I heard Leo wince in pain and moan in satisfaction almost simultaneously.

“You’re more powerful now. Your skin smells even better to me, and the chemicals in your kiss burn my tongue.” Leo’s bite looked awful. I grabbed a kitchen towel and ice from the freezer.

“Christ, I’m so sorry, the bite looks bad.” I put the ice on Leo’s wound. “What is wrong with me. I can’t bring Henry into this. What if I hurt him?”

“You can’t be judge, jury, and executioner. Let him choose. Maybe he tells you to get fucked. Maybe he doesn’t. The man might surprise you.”

“I can’t expect him to accept shit that shouldn’t exist. I’m not ashamed of our relationship, but I don’t want to lie to him.”

“Have you discussed being exclusive?”

“No, we haven’t found the time, but it feels implied.”

“Until you have that conversation, don’t worry. You can’t imply relationship status. Worry about not dying because if you go, Darlin. I’m running in after you.”

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