Sunday, April 18, 2010
A Good Wallow
This story has vampires and werewolves and is a little jaunt for some characters I've been batting around for something more novel length. The second short with this group will go up next week. That one has the zombies.
Melodramatic vampires and heavy drinking ahead.
“Screw this, I've got a BA in English and I'm on the edge!”
“I think that was a bit over the top,” Marc said, leaning his chin on one hand.
Lily looked over at him, her mug still held high over her head. She lowered it sheepishly, making it clatter on the tile countertop. “I think I’ve had too much coffee.”
“No argument there,” he said, checking his watch. He already looked bored, elbows on her kitchen table, wide dark eyes half lidded. It wasn’t a good start to the evening. If she took him out like that, he’d just drink until she had to carry him home.
The thought made her eyes narrow briefly. She traced the rim of her mug with one long finger, the tip of her manicured nail squeaking faintly over the ceramic. “I’m just saying you could learn to play the part a little,” Lily said, more sharply than she intended.
He raised his eyebrows. It was an elegant and very practiced gesture, a little surprise, a little disdain. It always made her feel younger than him somehow. “I’ve actually been to university, so I’m sure I can handle it. Shouldn’t we go to this place before it closes?”
She ignored his little insult and his sarcasm. Picking up colloquialisms and embracing new vocabulary didn’t make her any less experienced or educated. And it was a lot safer than holding on to old speech patterns and mannerisms. She pushed away from the counter and went to the table. She started straightening his lapels. “I’m more prepared than you are. Look at that tie. Even if it wasn’t too wide, no one’s going to be wearing a tie at this place.” She pulled on the knot a little roughly, making his head shake slightly as she worked it out from under his collar. “I told you, it’s all pseudo-intellectual grad students who sit around and talk about philosophy and world politics. You have a PhD in something, you can blend,” she told him, dropping the tie on the table. She made a move for his hair and he ducked away.
“It’s an MD and I draw the line at letting you touch my hair,” he said getting to his feet and eyeing her hair with exaggerated caution.
She tucked a long blonde strand behind her ear and didn’t let herself start twisting it in frustration. It wasn’t a crime to dye her hair, but he made it feel cheap when he wanted to. “I recommended highlights. Once. I’m not going to make you blonde,” she protested, trying to keep things light as she slipped into the coat he held out for her.
“And believe that I’m grateful for that,” he said in his teasing tone. It had been hard to recognize when they’d first met. To most people it just seemed even more deadly serious than his normal voice.
It made her feel more optimistic though. He hadn’t teased her about anything in weeks. She buttoned her coat and twisted a scarf around her neck. “You do have to try something new every once in a while you know,” she said, pulling her gloves on with some feigned difficulty once she saw that he already had the door open. He didn’t want to go and then he did. Improving mood aside, she was sure he was just rushing things along so he could get to the scotch part of the evening. Her purse went over her shoulder and with nothing else to stall over, she stepped out the door.
She unlocked the car with the remote before they’d reached the curb and held the keys out, jingling them in Marc’s direction. “You drive. Just get on University and head south. It’s right after Jarvis on the left.”
He snatched the keys out of her hand and walked faster, going around the passenger’s side to open her door and drumming his fingers impatiently along the top of the car as she took her time coming around and slipping into her seat. She felt lucky he didn’t take her leg off in his hurry to shut the door. She watched him dart around the car with surprising speed, a slight smile on her face. It used to be horses and then it was cars. Some boys never got over speed.
He slid behind the wheel, adjusting the seat and starting the engine. He adjusted the mirrors conscientiously and reached for the radio before she had finished with her seatbelt.
She kept her sigh to herself when he found a station playing some band with a whiny lead and mournful guitar. She didn’t say anything but felt it was a perfect sort of mirror to Marc’s problem. He liked to wallow. If given a choice between all the upbeat music in the world and some depressing tune about a breakup or death, he’d choose the wallow.
Lily watched him steer the car out into the street. He didn’t look much different than the first night she’d seen him at the club. His dark hair was combed straight back from his low forehead, dark eyes half hidden under thick eyebrows that were always drawn together in a faint frown. At least she’d gotten him to wear something other than black and gray.
It had taken longer to get him to change his suits than it had to get his entire life story. That only took two bottles of single malt scotch after hours. As stories went it wasn’t the most original. He had been a doctor at a hospital in Baltimore with a young wife and an even younger baby. They’d both died of the Spanish flu around the end of the pandemic in 1919. Tragic, yes, but it had been almost a hundred years ago. And he was still wallowing.
She didn’t deny that sometimes a person needed a good wallow. There was a lot of baggage to carry around being as old as they were. But it was no way to live.
Sometimes she wondered if the vampire that had turned him had really done him any favors.
Marc wasn’t always quite as deep as he was currently letting himself sink. In the five years that she’d known him she’d gotten him to travel a little and had even convinced him to leave Baltimore. He’d been haunting the place like a ghost for too long. Away from that city there were times that he laughed, or went to see a movie, or would go to a museum with her instead of drinking until he couldn’t walk. But then it would be his anniversary, or the baby’s birthday, or his wife’s birthday, or the day they bought that dog, or a song would come on the radio and he’d be right back in the far corner of the club, watching people dance and pickling as many of his internal organs as possible.
“So, do they really talk like that?” he asked abruptly. Only when she looked at him did she realize that he’d already parked the car.
“Who?” she asked, wondering if he’d said something before and she just hadn’t heard him.
He waved one pale hand at the brick building they were parked against. “College students. The whole bit about, ‘I have a degree and I’m on the edge.’” He turned to her with a look that was almost curious.
She thought fast, hoping this was a sign of actual interest. “Oh, well, you’d be surprised what some of them say at the club. Especially the ones that are still working in coffee shops after graduation.”
He frowned, his mouth falling into that all too familiar line. But it wasn’t a real frown, just his normal expression. “Speaking of. Why couldn’t we just go to the club?” he asked as though he’d just thought of it.
Lily had been expecting to field that question a lot sooner and answered lightly. “Because we’re trying something new.” She knew that if she told him they were here because the club was too comfortable, the old routine, get there, get drunk, let Lily make sure you get home before sunrise, he’d have a fit. Or at least as close as he came to a fit through his polished manners. Then there’d be another lecture about loss and poetry and horrible melancholy songs and he would end up implying that she didn’t have the soul to understand his loss, in more or less explicit terms, depending on his state of inebriation. And she would have to bite her tongue against the desire to ask him if he thought he was the only one who’d ever lost someone. How he would feel when he needed to use more than one hand to count the people he’d buried. And then he’d pile that shame on top of the guilt he had for not saving his family and he wouldn’t come to the club for a week. Lily would have to go and dig him out of his house and listen to hours of drunken apologies while she cleaned him up.
Luckily he took her explanation at face value. It wasn’t the first time she’d dragged him somewhere on the premise of ‘something new’. He passed her the car keys and she waited for him to come around her side of the car and open the door. She watched him move around the car, he favored his right leg more when he walked slowly, but she was sure that the injury would work itself out eventually. It was one of his more minor wallowing points but there were times that he fixated on how he’d never be able to ride a horse again because his leg was too fragile. Telling him that she had survived being stoned to death, and had completely recovered the use of the hand that was crushed in the incident, didn’t help. There were some things that Marc’s medical training didn’t let him believe yet. That he was almost one hundred and ten years old and still looked twenty-five was somehow easier to accept than the regeneration of bone.
Marc let in a blast of cold air when he opened the door and offered his hand. “Shall we get this over with?” he asked with exaggerated resignation as she stood.
She stepped to the side so he could shut the car door and tried not to grin. She touched the button on the remote and the car chirped twice, successfully locked. “Lead on,” she said, waving him ahead. Driving the car had put him in a better mood, sappy music notwithstanding. If she could get him to dance, maybe play a few games of pool or darts without hitting the scotch too hard, the night would be a success in her book.
They both presented their IDs to the bouncer who stood a head and half taller than Marc and completely dwarfed Lily. He blocked the entire entryway with his wide shoulders and looked them over with exaggerated caution, eyes flicking between their faces and the tiny pictures that were partially obscured by some sort of holograms that the state had started using on the licenses. Lily gave him her best innocent look. The IDs were straight from the DMV and perfectly legal, even if the ages were a little off. Eventually he handed the cards back and waved them in.
They checked their coats and Lily’s purse in the corridor. She put her ID and her credit card in the inside pocket of her light jacket and nudged Marc down the hall. When they turned the corner they both stood in the doorway, stock-still, eyes wide.
There were pool tables. And dart boards. There was a long bar that ran the length of the back wall. And in the middle there was a throng. Just heads and arms and legs. No sign of floor space between anyone. And most of them were bouncing.
Lily recovered first. From what her bartender Fiona had told her about the place she’d been expecting a little more swing and a little less pogo. She hazarded a glance at Marc whose mouth was open slightly, showing his sharp canines. She grabbed his sleeve and led him down the steps. It was too late to try another bar. She wanted to be home at a decent hour.
On the floor it was actually a little worse. It wasn’t just a mash of pseudo dancing. There was a circle of guys they had to walk around who were having some kind of contest with beer bongs and a few girls actually flashed people as they tried to get to the bar. Lily wondered vaguely if they were having spring break early.
Things were a little thinner near the bar. “Scotch and soda and-” Marc gestured to Lily and the bartender turned his eyes to her.
“Yuengling,” she said with a nod, already deciding to limit herself to two. She put her back to the bar, looking out over the room again. Dancing was out, that was sure. Pool might be manageable if there were enough tables.
“You brought me here on purpose,” Marc accused, handing her her beer.
She shrugged. “Let’s see if we can get a table.” She gestured toward the pool tables with her glass, not willing to apologize for getting him out even if this wasn’t what she had in mind.
Things were looking promising. There were two empty tables as they approached. One was taken immediately by a group of boys who were all wearing the same color shirt with Greek letters on the back. Lily moved up to the second table just as two girls approached. They all looked at each other across the battered green felt for a second.
“Ladies, please. We’ll wait for another,” Marc said, his hand on Lily’s elbow.
Lily was about to say something. She wasn’t willing to let Marc steer them toward some little table so he could start ordering doubles.
The two students looked at each other. One was wearing a Greek lettered shirt under her short jacket and the other was in a light sweater with a pin on one shoulder with the same Greek letters. “Why don’t we play pairs?” the one in the sweater suggested, flipping her red hair casually over her shoulder, attention on Marc.
Marc glanced at Lily who nodded. “Deal. I’m Lily, this is Marc.” He inclined his head briefly. The table was too wide to let him offer to shake hands but Lily noticed that he leaned forward slightly anyway.
“Joanna,” the one in the t-shirt said, dark hair falling in her eyes as she nudged her friend with her elbow when the girl didn’t speak.
“Sue,” she finally said, blushing faintly.
I pushed the wooden rack into Marc’s hands. “You rack ‘em up. They can shoot first,” Lily told him, pulling balls out of the pockets and rolling them toward him across the felt. Lily watched Sue move around the table to help him collect the balls and smiled slightly to herself.
“So do you go to Northwestern?”
Lily looked up to see that Joanna had sidled up beside her and was leaning casually on a pool cue, watching her through lowered lashes and shaggy black hair. “Just graduated. I’m not sure I’m ready to go back yet.” Usually the problem with taking Marc out was that everyone thought they were a couple. Lily looked across the table where Marc and Sue had their heads close together. Apparently it wasn’t going to be an issue tonight.
“What’s your degree in?” Closer up the print on Joanna’s shirt was clearly Alpha Omega Epsilon with something smaller written under it.
Lily could just hear what Selene would say if she caught her trying to get a closer look. “Philosophy.” She didn’t feel it was an absolute lie. Anyone over a hundred had to be at least a little philosophical. At seven hundred and eighty-six in the spring, she definitely qualified. “Are you going to shoot first?” she asked politely, trying not to squirm under the girl’s close scrutiny.
Joanna nodded toward her friend. “Sue, why don’t you break?” Then she tipped her head closer to Lily, half whispering, “Are the two of you any good?”
Lily found herself jumping slightly when the balls broke in front of her with a solid clack. “Marc’s pretty good. I haven’t had much time to play lately,” she said, not sure if the younger woman had been trying to gauge their involvement or if she’d really been referring to the game.
“So you need practice,” she said quietly, arm brushing Lily’s.
“Your shot.” Marc motioned to Lily who was grateful for an excuse to put some distance between herself and Joanna.
None of the balls had gone in, so she took her time looking the table over, picking her shot. She was amused to notice that Marc and Sue were still standing close together, speaking in low voices. She also felt the prickle of the other student’s attention on her as she lined up her shot. “This had better be worth it,” she muttered under her breath.
They played three games. Lily with her eye on Marc and Sue, and Joanna with her eye on Lily. It was after one in the morning when Lily finally pulled Marc aside. “I’ve got to head home. Selene is getting in tonight,” she said, sure that she only had his attention because the students had gone off to the washroom.
“I’m going to stay. I’ll get a cab later,” he said nonchalantly.
Lily kept her expression neutral, not wanting to look as surprised or pleased as she felt. She’d put off leaving as long as possible because Marc would invariably get a ride home with her. And possibly subject her to a talk about the frivolity of her evenings if he was sober enough. “That’s fine. I’ll see you at the club tomorrow.” She turned her head slightly so he could kiss her cheek. “Have a good night,” she told him sincerely before she turned and started fighting her way toward the exit.
“You’re not leaving already?” Joanna asked, catching her before she’d gotten three steps from the bar.
Lily shrugged apologetically, trying to unobtrusively dislodge the hand that had settled on her arm. “I’ve got an early morning.”
Joanne frowned briefly, putting a little creased between her eyes. Then she smiled, dipping her head to Lily’s ear. “Well, if you decide you want another game. Give me a call.” She pulled back, showed Lily a small pink card that had the same Greek letters as her t-shirt on it, and tucked it into the front pocket Lily’s jeans.
Then she turned away from Lily, whose mouth had fallen open, and walked back to the pool tables with an exaggerated sway to her hips.
Lily just shook her head and skirted through the crowd, dropping the card in a trashcan as she waited for the girl behind the counter to find her coat and purse.
Back in the car she found herself thinking about Marc again. Her surprise at him taking any kind of initiative to stay out had faded. It wasn’t like Marc never got laid. That wasn’t his problem. There were women who went for his brooding and his archaic chivalry. He wasn’t a bad looking guy and when he was halfway sober he could carry on a decent conversation. But having someone for a night could either leave him untouched or send him further down his spiral. There were times that he still considered it cheating. “But he was in a good mood when he picked that one up,” she told herself, refusing to dwell on it. There was only so much she could do for him.
She checked her cell phone for messages at the first stoplight she reached. Nothing. Nothing from the club and nothing from Selene saying her flight had been delayed. Which meant her establishment probably hadn’t burned down and that Selene was either on her way home from the airport or already home and not happy to be there alone. That in mind, Lily drove as fast as she dared through the relatively quiet streets and made it to the house in record time. Only to see the white mustang convertible already in the driveway.
“Damn,” she muttered, turning her engine off and slipped out of her seat to hurry up the driveway. There were no lights on but they didn’t always bother with them when they were home. The door opened silently. There was no frowning face and folded arms in the living room. Maybe the trip to see the family had gone better than Selene had anticipated. Maybe none of the cousins had tried to disembowel each other this time.
A quick tour of the ground floor showed no sign of anyone else. Lily made her way up the stairs, wincing when one creaked even though it didn’t really matter. Selene’s hearing was almost as good as Lily’s. If she was up she would have heard Lily open the door, she would have heard her walking around the first floor, she would even have heard the rustle of her socks against the carpet runner on the stairs.
Standing in the bedroom door, Lily could see why she hadn’t been nailed for being late. Selene was lying in the middle of the bed, the only light in the room from a tiny lamp on the nightstand. There was a book resting on her stomach, some tattered paperback, rising and falling with her deep, even breathing.
Lily felt relieved and a little protective as she worked the book out from under Selene’s warm hand and pulled a blanket from the foot of the bed up over her. The other woman stirred briefly, rolling onto her side and sleeping on.
Lily moved carefully into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her and running the water in the sink to let it warm up. She quickly scrubbed the atmosphere of the bar off her face and hands. She brushed her teeth for good measure and changed quickly in the cool room. Selene liked to keep the temperature down in the house since she overheated so easily. It wasn’t exactly uncomfortable for Lily, her body was generally room temperature anyway, but she preferred to be warm. She blew on her hands as she moved cautiously back into the bedroom, hoping the running water hadn’t woken Selene. She lifted the covers and slipped into the bed, careful not to touch the body next to her until she’d warmed up a little.
The human shaped radiator slid over, wrapping an arm around her waist and a leg over her legs. Selene put her head on Lily’s shoulder. She was quiet and Lily began to think she’d just moved in her sleep. Lily was just beginning to doze off when there was a low drawn out sniff, audible in the quiet room.
“You smell like a frat party. Who was the girl?”
Lily cursed mentally, knowing she should have taken a shower. Marc thought he had problems? He should try dating a werewolf.