Pizza with Blood Sauce
“Do you remember the stories we were told as children?” I questioned.
Leo juggled four pitchers of beer off the busy bar and crinkled his eyebrow at me.
“The old bedtime stories about Angels and Demons?” I added.
“Yeah, the witches and the warrior wolves. And the people they stuffed into the fallen logs. Shit always freaked the fuck out of me. I still don’t sit on fallen trees.” Leo shook his head and wrinkled his nose. “Those were not good stories for little kids to hear.”
“The parts about triggering the curse and not killing an innocent person. Do you remember how the story went?”
“Not really, but there was a circle, and you walked beyond it covered in innocent blood, never to return to your home again. I remember that part. It’s been years since I read those fairy tales, Al.”
The stories were only old fables, but they felt vital now. From the comfort of Leo’s lap, I watched his teammates laugh and joke as they inhaled pitchers of beer and devoured pans of pizza. They were a big block of muscles and testosterone-filled laughter in the middle of the otherwise tame family restaurant.
The air was filled with current music and the loud conversations of the people around us. Sports played on the televisions above the bar. Unruly children ran free in the open spaces, high on sugar and strobing video game lights.
A cold aura filled the room. It came up from the floor and clung to my bare legs, sliding up my back and wrapping itself around my neck. I couldn’t identify where the groping feeling came from but it was thick and persistent.
When a chair opened up, I hopped off Leo’s lap and grabbed the spot. I sat looking at my phone with my back securely to the wall. Google didn’t have our Clan stories, but a few myths about the hierarchy of angels popped at the top of my search box.
“Ridiculous,” I blurted out, catching Leo’s curious glance. “Angels.” I winked at him, flapping my free hand like wings.
“Maybe you, darlin’, but certainly not me.” Leo grabbed my beer mug and finished off the last of the lukewarm liquid before refilling the glass for me.
“So, where’s this stalker girl of yours?” I looked slowly around the room but didn’t find anyone particularly offensive. “I need to kiss your stupid face so I can go home. It’s been a long, very odd day. I’m getting hot and cranky sitting here.”
“I’m not sure I’m safe without you to protect me,” Leo laughed and looked around the room. “See the table in the far left by the bathroom? She’s in the black jacket with short hair.”
I spotted the woman. “Jesus, she makes me uncomfortable too. Does she want to eat you or fuck you?”
“I don’t want to find out, but she’s everywhere.” Leo looked down at his beer, turning the mug around several times. I could tell this young woman’s attention bothered him more than he let on.
“Do you have any classes with this girl?”
“I don’t think so.” Leo sat up straight in his chair and furrowed his brow.
“She shows up when you’re off-campus?”
Leo nodded as he maneuvered a whole slice of pizza into his wide-open mouth.
“I bet I could put my whole fist in your gaping hole,” I remarked, eying the enormous piece of pizza Leo shoved in his face.
“I’d rather you popped something else in my mouth.” Leo fluttered his long tongue like a nasty teenage boy.
“I’m going to let her eat you.” I got up from my chair. Leo grabbed me by the waist and plopped me back on his lap.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“I ordered a small margarita pie half an hour ago. Think they forgot about my pizza,” I explained, trying to make eye contact with our aloof waiter.
“Here, eat one of these.” Leo grabbed a cheesy slice from a pan on the table and flopped it on a paper plate.
Leo’s friends were busy laughing with each other and the few stray women they managed to lure to our table.
We got the occasional snickering glace as I sat on Leo’s lap and fed him slices of pizza. A few of his teammates knew me from the games and parties Leo’s dragged me to in the past. Leo was an actual man whore by anyone’s standards. I could only imagine how stupid they thought I was to stick around.
I grabbed a greasy slice with a napkin and folded it in half so it would fit in my mouth. It looked tasty with tomatoes and green peppers scattered on top. The first bite was fine, but the next bite was off. I could taste blood and a lot of salt.
“Ugh, this is disgusting.” I showed Leo the slice.
He smelled the sauce and angrily scanned the room.
“Something isn’t right. We need to leave now,” Leo muttered.
I looked around the room for the woman in the black jacket, but Leo’s stalker was gone. A young, trim man with piercing green eyes sat at her table. His short dark hair was precisely styled. He wore a vintage Eagles Live tour t-shirt and fitted jeans. The man flashed me a pleasant enough smile but seemed to be looking at me as if there was no one else in the entire world. I felt instantly uncomfortable.
“Yeah, I think you’re right,” I mumbled, looking around the restaurant for the stalker woman again. “Besides, I think your stalker left.”
Leo said his goodbyes to his teammates and dumped the tainted pizza in a nearby garbage can.
We ordered up a car, and it dropped us off at the bodega around the corner from my apartment. It felt like someone was watching us the whole time we traveled. Shadows by the alley moved in unison with Leo. They were almost in sync but not quite. My sanity was in serious peril. I told myself there was nothing in the darkness but empty space. The danger was imaginary and all in my head.
“Let me send you some cash for the Uber.” Leo opened his phone and logged into his app.
“Don’t worry about it. I got a pile of gift cards from Nana for my birthday.” I winked. “This trip was her treat.”
Leo shrugged and put his hand on my back, guiding me away from the street like a child.
The heavy, paranoid feeling of being watched wouldn’t leave me. Even with the heat from Leo’s hand burning through my clothes, I felt uneasy. It was ridiculous; the man beside me was a natural predator. I could have walked the street naked with hundred-dollar bills taped to my skin. No one would be able to touch me.
We reached the run-down little shop near my apartment. They made fresh noodle soup and a small assortment of Asian finger foods. We grabbed the mixed dinner for two and headed for my apartment. Leo stuffed himself with noodles and fell asleep on the floor watching TV while I ate my soup and fried won tons.
I took the opportunity to grab a shower and settle myself into bed before Leo woke up and decided to go home. It was hard to close my eyes long enough to wash my face and hair. The doors were locked, and a large man guarded my room, but it felt like someone was standing right behind me, breathing down my neck.
I filled my bath brush with ginger body wash and scrubbed away the unease. When I got to my toes, I noticed my polish had grown out, leaving fat crescents of unpainted nail at the top of each pink polished toe. My fingernails looked as if they grew a quarter-inch, but my polish was only one day old.
Rinsing the conditioner out of my hair, I noticed several clumps of hair fall to the tub floor. I left the warmth of the shower for the mirror over the sink but couldn’t find any bald spots. If anything, my hair looked longer and thicker. I got back in the shower and rinsed off until I was warm again and free of soap.
Leo was still asleep on the floor when I made it out of the bathroom. He stretched out across the path to the stairway and propped himself up on my large floor pillows. I pulled a throw blanket off my bed and draped it over his torso.
I assumed Leo wouldn’t let me sleep alone tonight, but I expected he would sleep in my bed next to me. He chose to sleep fully clothed on the floor, which made me question what danger he noticed and I missed.
Walking the room, I checked the locks on the windows and pulled the drapes closed. Looking down at the street below, I noticed a car park and two young women get out, juggling white takeout cartons and overstuffed backpacks. The street was nearly empty, but three parking spaces away in the shadow of a tree stood a figure leaning against a fence pillar, smoking a cigarette.
I watched as the red cherry burnt brighter, and the head of the figure turned to watch the women lock up the car and walk to their door. Once the women were inside, the red burning tip turned back in my direction. I jumped back from the window and closed the drapes tightly.
I felt like a coward, jumping at every little thing. I toweled the water off my hair as I listened to Leo softly snore. He curled his body around one of the floor pillows, dragging the blanket with him. I got the feeling he was on the floor for the evening. Having no more excuses, I tucked myself into my empty bed and tried to fall asleep.
The bed was cold and unusually hard. Darkness gathered around the edges. I reminded myself it was all in my head. I rolled to the side closest to Leo and focused on the shape of his chiseled jawline and the strength of his large hands wrapped around the blanket. His smell was almost masked by his cologne. Leo couldn’t hide his wolf scent from me if he tried. The light sweet smell of vanilla and the harsh tingle of spiced rum-filled my nose, letting me relax.