Chad lay on the moist earth. It could have been a flowerbed, but it was dark and his eyes were swollen, so he couldn’t tell.
He hurt everywhere. The air was cool for a summer night, and he knew that, but he felt like he had a fever.
The lights came on, and he remembered he was outside. For some reason he’d thought he was back at his motel, but there wasn’t a flowerbed in his motel room. That would be awesome, he thought, lilies and peonies, but he wasn’t sure they bloomed in the same season, and they probably wouldn’t grow without sunlight.
“Who are you?” It was a woman’s voice. She sounded angry, or frightened maybe, but pretty, like his sixth-grade music teacher. Miss Salcedo had been something, and always free with the hugs; he’d taken full advantage.
“I’m gonna call the cops,” she said, and he struggled up.
The first thing he saw was the garden he’d crushed, carrots maybe, then the beautiful girl standing at the back door of a white clapboard house.
“Who are you?” he asked.
She was, if anything, rounder than Miss Salcedo, in the best possible way. She was white, not Honduran, but his teacher’s ancestry hadn’t been what he’d found so alluring.
“I asked first,” she said. “Are you bleeding?”
“Definitely,” Chad said.
“…Should I call the cops?”
“I’d rather not.”
“You smashed Grandma’s parsnips-”
“Sorry…. I’ll get going,” he said, and turned to a gate he must have passed through when he’d entered her yard. It was wood plank, painted white, and stamped with a bloody hand print he’d probably put there. He took one step but then froze with a shooting pain in his ankle.
“…You wanna come inside?” the very pretty chubby girl asked. She sounded like she knew how bad an idea that was, but, as he authentically meant her no harm, he appreciated her unfounded trust.
“…Could I use a bathroom- to wash up?”
“Sure…” she said.
As he walked toward her she looked like she was holding back a scream, but once she’d guided him through a sixties-house-wife kitchen, and into the guest bathroom, he realized it was the state he was in that had frightened her rather than any threat he might have posed.
He knew he’d taken a beating. The fact he couldn’t remember most of it probably said something. His eyes were swollen like he had an inconvenient allergy and had been playing soccer with a bee-hive. The cuts and scrapes that covered his face were terrible enough, and dripping blood, but he was sure his whole face would look like a giant roasted eggplant by morning.
He washed away the first layer of blood, but the bleeding hadn’t stopped, and he switched his focus to cleaning up the sink. It had started pearlescent white but had quickly become a mottled pink. He gave the sink a final polish with the sleeve of his now-ruined-but-recently-purchased white interview-shirt.
Chad came back out of the bathroom, thinking he’d ask to call a cab, and possibly for the girl’s number. And her name. He realized he hadn’t introduced himself. But he found her sitting at the kitchen table with a plate of what looked like baked mac and cheese in front of her, and another in front of an empty seat.
“Are you hungry?” she asked. “Ah! And I have bandages,” she said, sliding a box of Band-aids across the table.
“Thanks,” Chad said, and took a seat. The plate in front of him was steaming, apparently fresh from the microwave.
The girl slowly took a bite from her plate, staring at him like a mother trying to convince her baby. It was working. He hadn’t thought he was hungry, but his mouth was watering. The thought of taking a bite made him lick his bloody lips.
“I’m Chad,” he said.
“Ah… Robin.” She had long black hair, dyed, but more Barbara Steele than Siouxsie Sioux. Even though she was clearly settled in for the night, wearing a ratty green bathrobe that showed just a bit of her ample cleavage, her eyes were heavily lined in black and her lips were painted crimson.
Chad took a bite, feeling obligated. It was almost too hot but outrageously good. He’d never bothered to buy the expensive cheddar, and American cheese melted better in his experience, but this must have been what the good cheddar tasted like, or maybe she’d mixed in some Parmesan. The flavor almost made the cuts in his cheeks bearable.
“This is… really great,” he said, talking around the mac and cheese.
“My grandma made it, but thanks- Did you get mugged?”
“Nah…. It was some friends- they used to be friends-”
“They aren’t friends anymore, right?” she asked, smiling round red lips. “What’d you do?- Sorry, I mean, why’d they beat you up?”
“…We were in a band-”
“Like… music?” she asked. A noodle flew out of her mouth, hitting the table. She placed a napkin over it, pretending it had never happened.
“Yeah, a punk band-”
“What are you called?”
“We were called Gadara,” he said; it was very much past tense.
“Is that a punk thing?”
“No, I think it’s Biblical. Reilly’s a real freak-”
“He one’a the guys who beat you up?”
“Chad doesn’t seem like much of a punk name….” She stared at him with a little smirk on her beautiful lips. He couldn’t tell if she was joking or questioning his story.
“They used to call me Piggy,” he said, and she giggled.
“So why’d they beat you up?”
“Oh. They wanna get the band back together-”
“And you didn’t want to? I mean, they must not be very nice….”
“Yeah… no. I went to a job interview this morning-”
“So you don’t usually dress like that?”
“Bloody rags aren’t my thing-”
“That looks like it was a nice shirt….”
“Thanks,” he said. He wanted to return her compliment, to lay the groundwork for getting her number. “You know Barbara Steele?”
“Of course,” she said, a slightly odd answer. She looked around the kitchen, like there might have been someone supplying his lines. “Why?”
“You…. make me think of her- She’s a beautiful woman.”
Robin preened as if she were wearing a dress instead of a bathrobe, but then her smile faded. “Steele’s a lot thinner….”
“She’s too skinny,” he said, mostly lying, but there was nothing wrong with more curves.
She kept staring at him, and what had seemed like self loathing turned quickly to anger. He decided to wait her out.
“…So have you seen Mask of Satan, then?” she asked, quizzing again.
“Is that a Steele movie? I was thinking of Black Sunday-”
“It’s the same thing,” she said.
He heard the front door. The thought hadn’t occurred to him, but, although he would’ve guessed college-age rather than high-school, a girl that young didn’t usually live alone in a house that big, and there was the chef-grandmother she’d mentioned.
Robin jumped up from her seat and grabbed his arm. His arm probably wasn’t broken, but it hurt like hell as she dragged him by it. She opened a door next to the bathroom, and he had just enough time to see stairs leading down before she slammed it behind him.
He fumbled in the dark, thinking all he needed was a fall down some stairs, but he eventually found a light switch and started down a long set of wooded steps.
It was a basement, obviously, but decorated like a dungeon, not in the creepy sex club sense, more nerdy, like a collection of Halloween decorations worth ten-grand.
There was a camera of the kind used by the local news, pointed at a couch draped in a bolt of black cloth. He lay down, feeling suddenly better than he had since that morning, possibly than he had in years, but that would only be in contrast to how awful he’d felt of late.
He heard the door to the basement creak open. “I’m not hungry- I ate leftovers,” Robin said.
“Two plates- I thought you were on a diet, and why two plates- Did Tobie come over?” It was an older woman, probably Grandma.
“I’m going to sleep-”
“You shouldn’t tell lies.”
“…I’m gonna watch TV.”
“Don’t stay up too late,” the older woman said.
He heard the door slam and Robin’s footsteps coming down the stairs.
“Hey,” Chad said, sitting up on the couch, and feeling terrible again.
“That’s my grandma. She was supposed to be at bingo, but I think she lost her roll,” Robin said, chuckling.
She sat down next to him on the couch. It had been big enough for him to lie down with his knees bent, but sitting together their legs were touching.
“She doesn’t like you bringing guys home?” he asked.
“I guess…. She doesn’t really care, but you look kinda bloody.”
“So I should clean up next time?”
“Yeah…. Do you really think I look like Barbara Steele?” she asked, staring at the camera pointed at them. There were a hundred reasons for the desperateness in her eyes, probably the same reasons she’d let somebody like him into her house.
“Do you really want to?” he asked, touching his fingers to her cheek, and gently turning her to face him. “She’s black and white, or color sometimes I guess, but you’re warm,” he said, and kissed her.
He hadn’t expected fireworks, but her response was still a surprise. She put both of her palms on his chest and shoved. Her strength was another surprise, as he was knocked back against the arm of the couch, and then down to the floor on his knees.
“S-Sorry,” he said, wheezing. He seemed to have a broken rib, from the prior beating rather than her act of excessive self defense.
“…Are you okay?” she asked, helping him up again.
“I’m okay,” he said. “I just thought things were going like that. I’m usually more suave-”
“I have a boyfriend,” she said, staring at the camera again with a sad look in her eyes.
“…Sorry. That Tobie guy?” he asked, but froze as she glared at him. “Your grandma said-”
“No. Tobie’s a friend. A gay friend…. His name’s Tim.” Her full lips quivered as her dark eyes grew moist. “He’s not really my boyfriend, but I’ve been chasing after him- I don’t think he likes me….”
“…So, you don’t have a boyfriend?” he asked. Which meant that painful trip to the floor had been meaningless.
“I don’t, okay!?” Robin yelled.
“Indoors voice!” her grandmother yelled through the basement’s ceiling.
“I don’t have a girlfriend either,” he said, trying an indirect approach, since the direct one had ended him up on the floor.
“I don’t like parties, or clubs….”
“I don’t either.” He meant now. For the last few months he’d been trying to claw his way up to adulthood.
“I mostly just watch TV- But I like to go to the movies.”
“We can do that then,” he said.
She smiled and launched at him, kissing him more roughly and awkwardly than he’d expected. His ribs screamed again as she pressed her soft weight on top of him, but as he kissed her back, and she didn’t complain as his finger crept along, exploring the curves under her bathrobe, the searing pain was quickly forgotten.