After dropping Charles off, Liz went–where else?–to the fish store. Murphy was sitting on the loading dock on the back of the rented truck that was filling in for the wrecked one. No one was unloading. He looked relaxed, despite the chilly air and wet concrete he was sitting on. Liz pulled up next to it, into the slot that UPS normally used, because she wouldn’t be there long.
“You like it here too much,” he said as she got out of her car. “Ain’t this your only day off?”
So he’d been reading the schedule on the wall. “Getting my check,” she said.
Murphy gestured for her to enter the store, as if she needed his permission. Mr. McIntyre wasn’t there, but her check was in the drawer with the rest of them, and she was on her way out in two minutes, after stopping to tell one of the cashiers that she’d been in to get her check. She didn’t have to tell them, but felt better doing it. If something turned up missing, she wouldn’t be the one blamed for sneaking in and out.
“Your friend’s here,” Murphy said as she came back out.
Liz followed the direction of his nod, and saw Eric walking around the corner of the building. He looked purposeful, and pissed off, and his hands were clenched at his sides. Her heart sped up immediately. He was about ten feet from the back of her car. Even if she jumped off the dock and ran to it, she wouldn’t get there before he did. So there wouldn’t be any avoiding him. She hoped he wouldn’t break one of her windows. Liz glanced at Murphy, who took a long drag from his cigarette and raised his eyebrows at her.
She had no choice but to go down the steps to where Eric was. “Why are you here?” she said as disdainfully as she could.
“Fuck you, you fucking slut.”
“Indiligens cum pigra familia,” she replied calmly, jumping down, keys in hand. Her hat slipped a little, and she pushed it back up out of her eyes.
Eric stepped between her and the car. “What the fuck did you say?”
“Go and look it up,” she replied. She didn’t try to step around him. Aikido worked best when the enemy made the first move.
“I got kicked out of my house because of you, bitch,” he said. “My dad fuckin’ kicked me out because I got fired. It’s your fault.”
“Am I supposed to feel bad about that?” she replied, hoping it would piss him off. Eric merely scowled; the subtlety was lost on him. Liz lowered her voice, so Murphy couldn’t hear. “Look on the bright side; now you don’t have to worry about him catching you when you whack off to my video.”
That did it. Eric barked an epithet and stepped forward, swinging at her. Liz stepped forward too, and right up against him, catching the punching arm in one hand and pulling it forward and down. For an instant they were cheek to cheek, as if they were going to waltz, and then all of Eric’s momentum was suddenly redirected downward as Liz yanked his trapped hand downward and persuaded the rest of him to follow. He spun forward and down, face to the sky, hopelessly off-balance.
If she had been in class, Liz would have cradled his head and shoulders with her free hand to keep him from slamming the back of his head into the mat. But this wasn’t class, and there was no mat. There was a solid-sounding thwack as Eric contacted the snowy concrete, and he curled up into a fetal position, hands clutching the back of his head. Murphy was on his feet laughing.
“You little shit,” she muttered. “I should have fucked–” the word was punctuated with a hard kick in the thigh– “you up the first time you tried to blackmail me. Now go home before you get hurt for real.” She was tempted to add that her she knew plenty of ways to hurt someone without leaving a mark, but didn’t. Liz stepped over him, got in her car, and backed out of the loading dock, careful not to run over him. He was still rolling around in pain as she left. The last time she glanced in the rearview mirror, she saw Murphy still laughing.
Knocking Eric down had been liberating, and it had barely gotten her heart rate up. She hadn’t even thought about what to do, just taken Eric down and then gotten herself out of danger. Liz said a silent thank you to Ted, who had insisted she take self-defense classes starting at age nine. She hadn’t used aikido outside of class in a while, though, and had forgotten how much easier it was to knock down someone who wasn’t learning the same moves you were. She had gotten into fights regularly in Los Angeles, much bloodier than this one too. Went with the lifestyle, she supposed. Liz didn’t feel like thinking about LA, though, and stopped. She mentally replayed some of her session with Charles instead, and the memory of the perpetual confusion on his face made her smile.
She had left the house with two or three errands in mind, but she couldn’t remember what they were. Since she was in such a good mood, she drove all the way out to Southfield. By the time she got there, Andrew should be just getting off of work, and she could kidnap him for dinner.
Her timing was perfect. She followed him out to his house (another hour or so of slogging through slow commuter traffic until they got past Waterford) and they decided to have dinner there.
“Damn,” she said. “I forgot to bring your video; we could have watched ‘Short Cuts’ again.”
“You liked that more than I thought you would,” Andrew said. He sat on the couch and let Liz dig through the refrigerator for something to eat. She was always willing to come over and make food with whatever he had, and he knew better than to get in her way. “I should take it back to the video store some time, you know.”
“Well then let me borrow your VCR, so I can copy it. It makes me happy.”
“Happy? It’s a fucking depressing movie!”
“Screw you, it makes me happy anyway. It’s a girl thing. Chinese okay?” she asked from inside the fridge. The selections were dismally slim; although his house was neat, Andrew had a bachelor’s fridge. There were lots of condiments, several stray bottles of beer and soda, and a variety of store-bought leftovers, most of them elderly. The Chinese looked the most promising, and Liz was glad when Andrew made an affirmative sound. She pulled an armful of white containers out of the fridge. “Did you and Peach order this the other night?”
“Some of it. Some of it’s probably older than that. You might want to smell it all first.”
She was already doing so. The boxes that passed muster went into the microwave. When the inspection was complete Liz slammed the door on all of them with a quick sweep of her arm.
She started it, and sparks exploded inside the microwave–Liz yanked the door open with a yelp and started pulling the metal handles off of the cartons with an angry hiss. Andrew pretended not to notice. She said nothing while the little oven hummed on the restart. She was making a mental note to bring the remains of Margo’s lasagna to Andrew’s house and “forget” to take it home. The way her memory was getting, she ought to write it down.
“I got you a present,” he said. “Well, actually, me and Peach and Rob got it.”
“Check the corner, behind the chair.”
Liz went over there with a dubious look in his direction. She found two long, flat pieces of metal leaning against the wall, shiny and silver. Each was about three feet long.
“Go ahead, pull them out.”
She did. They were street signs, reflective white on a green background. The first read, “N. Elizabeth.” The other was, of course, “S. Elizabeth.” Liz laughed out loud. “Oh, cool! You larcenous shit! Where did these come from, Ondrew?”
“Dearborn,” he said.
“You risked imprisonment for me? My hero.” The nuke chirped, and Liz kissed the top of Andrew’s head on the way to the kitchen. She arranged the steaming boxes in a line on the coffee table, after pushing some magazines out of the way. “Chinese it is,” she said proudly, putting scalded fingers in her mouth and looking into a mug that bristled with silverware and other things, fishing out a fork for Andrew and a pair of painted chopsticks for herself.
Most of the containers were half full or less; he let her eat most of it, as well as offering her all of the water chestnuts he came across. She plucked them deftly out of his fingers or the box with the chopsticks, and bitched half-seriously if they weren’t perfectly round.
Later, after she stabbed the chopsticks into what was left of the rice, consigned the box to the floor, nearly dumping it over, and slouched on the couch with an exaggerated sigh to stare at the ceiling, he asked her what was on her mind.
“Nothing, really,” she said.
“Did your friend spend the night? The lawyer?”
She opened her eyes and looked at him. “Is it any of your business?”
“Yes, he did,” Liz said with a smile that told him all he needed to know about what had happened. “Did Drusilla come home with you?”
“Nope,” Andrew repeated, shrugging.
“She seems okay. Sane, even. I’m proud of you, even if you didn’t get any and I did.”
He shrugged again, clearly not wanting to talk about Drusilla, or the previous night. Liz was looking a question at him and it was probably about Dru, so he changed the subject. “We did run into the jerks from Cellar Dweller last night though.”
Liz frowned. “You went to Cellar Dweller after I left?”
“No, we went to Denny’s. But they showed up there. We almost got the shit beaten out of us, by the way.”
She looked abashed, noticing a shadowy bruise on his cheek for the first time. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have rushed off and left you.”
“Shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. No, it was okay. It’s just that it was me and Peach and Drusilla. Dennis and Tania left.”
“Peach knows tae kwon do.”
“But he’s a damn pacifist, you know that. He won’t use it. He only does it to stay in shape.”
Liz rolled her eyes. “I’m going to have to have a serious talk with that boy. I assume you’re okay, since you’re not sporting any serious damage.”
“All ended well,” he said. “This guy came out of nowhere, and went to town with a lead pipe. Saved our asses.”
“I never saw him before. I forget his name–Timmy, Tino, something like that. About my height, maybe thirty pounds lighter. Black leather duster, black pants, long hair. He might’ve been on shrooms or something. He was a little wild-eyed. But he ran up and helped me beat the shit out of our nemeses, so I’m glad. You’ll probably meet him some time; I told him to come to The Barn some time.”
“I’d like to meet him. Anyone who protects my Ondrew is a friend of mine,” she said, ruffling his hair. “Anyway, it must be a full moon; I got in a fight, too.”
“Listen to us! We’ve got some serious anger-management issues, don’t we?”
“Speak for yourself.” She told him about the altercation with Eric. That led to an explanation of the fight, and after some internal debate and teeth-grinding she wound up telling him about the porno as well. She didn’t want to, but if she was going to tell anyone it ought to be him. She swore him to secrecy, even from Peach.
Andrew was immediately upset for her ordeal. It showed on his face; he kept his mouth shut. He wished more than anything that she’d told him about it, when Eric had blackmailed her. But, half a loaf was better than none, and he could be glad she’d chosen to tell him at all. He didn’t know what to say for a while, and wouldn’t have said anything except he could tell from the look on her face that she was desperate for him to say something. “Did you do it because you needed the money?” he asked finally, nudging her knee with his.
She bumped him back. “Actually, no. I was just fucked up and thought it would be a funny thing to do. The money was nice, but I can’t pretend that I was so desperate that I had to do porn. These guys just saw me, and asked if I was interested, and I was drunk enough at the time that I was. That’s all.” She sighed, forcing herself to look at him. “Promise me you won’t run out and rent it.”
“Why not? Complete strangers can see you naked, but I can’t?”
“Yes. I don’t know or care how the pervs in the filth shops think, but I value your opinion of me.”
He laughed. “Aw, no fair! So, if I piss you off, does that mean I can see it?”
Liz considered that, then pounced on him, knocking pillows off the couch. She wrestled him onto his back, sat on him, and started tickling his sides. Taken completely by surprise, Andrew was helpless against the assault, and was soon laughing too hard to breathe. He squirmed uselessly; probing fingers found his ribs, his belly, all of his ticklish spots. “You don’t wanna watch it, now, do you?” Liz taunted. “Do you? Say it!” Andrew let out a helpless gasp. “Say it!”
“…shit…aagh, okay, okay! I don’t want to see it!”
She let him up, laughing. “Dickhead.”
“Oh, my God, I think I wet my pants,” Andrew said. That got them both laughing again. “I gotta check my shorts,” Andrew said, staggering into the bedroom, doubled over.
He came back out ten seconds later with a wadded-up pillow and clouted Liz clean off the couch with it. The pillow ripped, sending a cloud of feathers to the ceiling. “Ondrew, I’m going to stuff snow down your shorts for that,” Liz threatened. She was laughing, but she was also serious. Chaos, anarchy and playful violence ensued. She didn’t get to stuff snow down his shorts, but did enough damage that she might as well have.
When Andrew begged off, insisting that he had to go to sleep because it was midnight and he had to go in early for some server work, Liz let him turn in and headed out. As she got on the freeway, she realized that Cellar Dweller was still open, and another night of exhausting herself with dance sounded appealing. Besides, downtown Detroit was closer to Waterford than Ypsilanti was. Technically.
Liz knew none of the others would be there since they’d been avoiding the place. She wasn’t sure where her energy was coming from, but there it was, nervous energy. She figured the exercise had awakened her neglected body. She’d been eating like a horse, too, building muscle. It was amazing the difference a week could make.
The club was nothing like The Barn. It was smokier, gothier, and a great deal louder. She didn’t recognize many faces, having been away for so long, but the music and the mood felt instantly like home. Before long, so did the drink in her hand. She couldn’t even remember buying it, and since there was no point in dumping it out she told herself she’d only have one. It would be her little secret.
Someone bought her the second one. A guy, cute-ish, probably a year or two younger than she was and seeing her as a newbie, not knowing she’d been coming here since before he was old enough to drink. She humored him, danced with him, sat with him. He told her his name, but she didn’t pay much attention. He bought her another drink, too, and then she dragged him out of there, floating on a light buzz and nervous sexy energy (wrestling with Andrew hadn’t helped that; she was aware of her body and his, and even though she knew Andrew was out of her league she really, really wanted/needed to feel someone inside her, to get that itch that Charles had prodded so successfully scratched again. Had it only been last night? Seemed like she hadn’t gotten any in ages.).
Liz told herself, as she left with Whatshisname, that she was getting out of the club so she wouldn’t drink any more. She ought to stop, after all, while she was still straight enough to drive home, and before she got so messed up she couldn’t get to work tomorrow. That was more or less true, but there was also that itch to scratch.
She’d parked at a dark corner of the lot, away from the street lights and the security guard who watched the comings and goings of cars from the lot. As they moved through the dark rows, the guy put his hand on her ass, and she didn’t discourage it. When she reached her car she turned toward him and pulled him to her, feeling his heat in front of her and the cold metal of the car behind. The city screamed around them, a susuruss of mechanical and organic noises, and even though the temperature hovered just above freezing the guy didn’t complain when she took his cock out and put her mouth on it. Heat and cold conspired to create a most delightful thrill, in fact. Most delightful indeed.
She got home late, feeling satisfied again. Her tailbone was still numb from what had been done to her on the hood of her car, but it was a good feeling.