Declan parked his matte black, highly modified, MK3 next to Valorie’s cotton-candy Sportster. She parked her bike street side, but anybody inclined towards motorcycle theft knew well enough to leave her bike where it sat.
He passed through the gold-trimmed glass double-doors into her building and over the marble floor to the elevator. He stepped in and pressed the button for floor six. Her apartment wasn’t top floor, but it was nice. Valorie had been telling him for months she didn’t need more than a studio, but he was sure she was demurring.
Declan saw his blurry reflection, tinted gold in the elevator door, and pulled the eye-patch from his pocket. She’d never commented on the gaping black hole where his left eye should have been, but she seemed friendlier when he wore the patch.
He walked out of the elevator but stopped in front of her door, putting his fingers through his black hair and gray beard, and checking his shirt was buttoned right. He knocked.
The door swung in with Valorie standing behind it. “Hey, Darlin’,” she said. Her blond hair was in blue plastic curlers that matched her terry bathrobe.
“Hello,” he said, and waited for her to step to the side before walking in.
“You hungry?” she asked as he collapsed on her couch. “I’ve got left-overs from the Golden Palace.” It was his favorite Chinese place, but Declan wasn’t hungry.
She flopped down next to him and started stroking his belly like she was checking he’d been eating enough. She left her hand there, her thumb resting over a recent bullet hole; he didn’t comment.
“You’re acting weird,” she said, nuzzling against his cheek. There was a pink scar on her pale skin, running from the bottom of her round earlobe down to her clavicle.
The scar was part of her now, and Declan didn’t mind it, but he thought of the man he’d killed eight years ago. He’d never told her about it. He’d thought at the time it would make her feel guilty, and it might have. For some reason he felt the impulse to tell her the story now, but that would have been really weird.
“I got a job,” she said, pulling away from him and tucking her knees against her chest.
At first he thought she meant a job in her old line of work and wondered who he’d have to kill, and whether she’d forgive him, but then he realized, even though she knew he’d never hurt her, she wouldn’t be stupid, or spiteful, enough to tell him like that.
“Waitressing,” she said, suddenly sitting up straight and staring at him. She’d probably read the confusion on his face.
“Is this over then?” he asked.
They’d had an arrangement for those eight years, since she’d gotten out of the hospital. He payed her for exclusivity and dropped by when his work wasn’t too heavy.
A man told him once, he’d been drunk so the information wasn’t reliable, he’d told him whore meant home in some old language. Declan had never shared that factoid with Valorie, because the word alone would have hurt her feelings, but it seemed like a nice idea, and he wished he could find a way to express it.
“…It doesn’t have to be,” Valorie said.
She seemed frightened; her hands were shaking as her voice quaked. He wanted to tell her he wouldn’t hurt her, but that would probably come out more threatening than silence.
“I just, don’t want you to pay me anymore- I’m gonna have to get a smaller place.”
He wondered if this might have had something to do with her apartment, and, for a moment, planned to cripple her building manager, but all the apartment talk had probably been about this. That meant it had been a long time coming and just hadn’t noticed.
“I love you,” she said. She seemed to be trying it out, seeing how it felt in her mouth.
“You wanna get married?” he asked.
She just stared at him, confused, and then angry. She was in her thirties, he wasn’t sure how old exactly, but when she was really pissed she pursed her lips like a kid. It always made him smile, a problem that had plagued their relationship for years.
“It’s short notice, so I don’t have a ring. But I can get one,” he said.
The confusion was back on her face. She must have thought he was joking. “Is Jo gonna be okay with that?” she asked.
“…Kid’s gotta grow up some time,” Declan said.