“My friend Ondrew invited us to come out and play,” Liz said to Charles by way of explanation as they drove to The Barn instead of back to Charles’ condo. “It’ll be fun,” she told him. “I need to test myself anyway, so now is a good time. I have murdered a rat with my bare hands tonight, and I am in a damn good mood.”
The rat statement threw him–made him wonder about some of the things Katz had been saying, too–but it soon became clear what Liz meant by “testing herself,” as they were going to a nightclub on the outskirts of the university. The place was unassuming, tucked away in the corner of a strip mall as it was, but the neon surrounding the door and the short line waiting to get in were dead giveaways as to the windowless establishment’s identity.
“God, I want to dance,” Liz said. How Liz could even consider dancing directly after practicing aikido for an hour and a half was beyond Charles; he was all for propping himself up in the corner with a beer to take some of the ache off. “We have a better place we go, but it’s in Detroit and only open weekends. Ondrew claims to know the DJ here though, and he’ll play some danceable filth for us. So I’m told. And everyone else can keep me away from the bar,” she added. Charles frowned, and she patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll be good. Like I said, I feel strong.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a bar like this,” Charles said as he got out of the car, his eyes on the door. He was glad he’d thought to bring his wallet, and mentally thinking of a way to keep Liz from looking at his license if she got the idea in her head to do so–if she saw his surname was Saxen, the game would be over.
“No? Well, this is how the other third lives. Let me entertain you tonight?” she asked with a coy tilt of her head, sensing some hesitation in him. “I know I’ve sort of kidnapped you. But it’ll be fun, promise.”
Charles shook off his hesitation and closed the car’s door. He followed her, inside, had no trouble with his ID, and she introduced him to Peach, Andrew, Drusilla and Dennis, who were all standing in a line at the bar.
“I’ve kidnapped Charles for the night,” Liz explained to the others after introducing him. “Now he’s at my mercy.”
“Poor guy,” Andrew said. “I’ve got cyanide pills for whenever you can’t take any more.” Liz punched his shoulder. Andrew was as full of energy as she was.
The Barn was large, sectioned into a dance floor on the left, a bar and seating area in the center, and a cluster of pool tables and video games to the right. Walkways and staircases connected all three areas and the various levels within. A rear-projection screen television hung over the bar; it was tuned to a basketball game.
Liz headed straight for the dance floor, ducking under the railing rather than looking for an opening. It was barely ten, so the place was largely empty. A few small clusters of patrons dotted the tables, not yet drunk enough to venture onto the dance floor.
The music was something Liz didn’t recognize, a radio-friendly hip-hop beat. She ignored it. The dance floor was sizeable, lots of room to roam. Liz stood at the edge, then walked out to the center of the floor. She turned in a slow circle, eyes scanning the rest of the place as she went around–there went Ondrew, into the DJ’s booth–and yes, the floor was hers. She scuffed one of her boots on it, testing the surface, like a seasoned professional sizing up the playing field.
She rolled her shoulders. The aches from aikido were already gone, lost under her excitement. She was in the bar, and she didn’t want a drink. It was going to be okay, it really was.
The music changed. Liz recognized the bass- and distortion-heavy White Zombie song instantly, and she tumbled right into it.
Andrew rejoined Charles and Peach at the bar. Dennis and Tania had moved off to a table to talk privately. “Where’s Dru?” he asked.
“Bathroom,” Peach said. “She must be marking her territory.”
Andrew and Charles laughed. “Liz looks happy,” Charles said, nodding toward the dance floor, which a rather energetic Liz had entirely to herself.
“I thought she’d like this,” Andrew said. “She’ll dance till she can barely stand. Then we’ll pour her into her car and send her home, and she’ll sleep like an infant. Beer?”
“Yes. Please.” Charles offered Andrew some money, which he refused to take, pretending not to notice as he turned to signal the bartender. “She moves differently,” Charles said, half to Peach and half to himself. “Compared to in class,” he added, watching her. At the moment she was in a half-crouch, stepping forcefully forward. She stomped in perfect time with the bass drum; her legs and hips led, and the rest of her followed. The calculated grace of her aikido had taken on a harder, less controlled edge. “She’s stalking.”
“Interesting observation,” Peach said, nodding again.
“Have you known her long?”
He shrugged. “Depends on your definition of long. Four, five years maybe. You?”
“Just met her.”
“Lucky fellow,” Peach replied.
“Why do you say that?”
“She’s coming out of a very, very bad patch. I suppose we all are, but she took the worst of it.” Peach glanced out at the dance floor, watched Liz. “To be honest, I didn’t think she’d be alive by this time. She got a little–no, a lot–self-destructive, and wouldn’t let any of us help. She ran away to California instead of letting us help her.”
“I know she had a drinking problem.” Charles didn’t know how much Peach knew about Liz’ other problems. It seemed to be a lot, but he chose not to share any more than that.
Peach nodded. “It got bad. I’m very glad she’s home. Not quite as glad as Andrew is, but then I don’t have a crush on her.”
Charles frowned. Andrew was just out of earshot, and Drusilla had returned. She was hanging on him, talking in his ear with a wide smile.
Peach followed the gaze. “Her notwithstanding,” he said. “He’s still got a crush on Liz.” He smiled like a monk content to watch the foibles of the unenlightened.
“Does she know?”
He lit a cigarette and shrugged. “Do they ever? Drusilla only just met him; maybe she’ll figure it out. Maybe she’ll tell him, if she does. Maybe she’ll even tell Liz. But I kind of doubt it, from what I’ve seen.”
“Hence the ‘territory’ comment?” Charles asked.
Peach’s response was an enigmatic beatnik’s smile. Andrew and Drusilla rejoined them. “Andrew’s just glad to go out and do something that’s not a ‘grown-up’ thing, aren’t you?” Peach asked him. “We had this discussion a few nights ago.”
“What discussion?” Charles asked.
“The one where you ask yourself why you don’t do the things you did when you did five or ten years ago. If going out and acting like a fool lost its appeal, or if you lost the ability to have fun doing it.”
“This doesn’t count as acting like a fool,” Andrew said.
“That’s because you can’t see yourself dancing.”
Cheerful insults were traded. Drusilla cornered Charles for a moment, asking him where he was from and what he did. She seemed more bored than impressed to hear that he was a lawyer, and was soon snuggling up to Andrew again. Andrew looked at once amused, flattered and embarrassed by her attentions.
Peach’s prediction was correct; Liz danced for about forty-five minutes, stopping only for several drinks of water, before joining them at the bar. Andrew’s friend in the DJ booth played a constant stream of loud, obnoxious songs for her, and she had the whole floor to herself, except for one song which Andrew and Drusilla had joined her for. She was sweaty and joyous when she leaned on the bar next to Charles. Dennis and Tania had also returned by this time.
“I am so out of shape,” she said after she drained yet another glass of water. Andrew had already bought her another one. “Look at me, I’m dying over here. I should be able to do this for hours.”
“What, you’re ready to stop?” Andrew laughed. “Get back out there. This is therapy.”
“Eat shit and die,” Liz said lightly. “This feels good,” she said. “Will you be my chaperone at Cellar Dweller, too?
“He can’t go,” Drusilla said. “Some guys there will kill him if he shows up.”
Liz frowned. “Come again?”
“Andrew and Dennis almost got in a fight with a gang down there, and they’re not going back. That place is too fucking dangerous any more.”
“It’s nothing,” Andrew said, looking at the floor. It was the wrong thing to say. Charles was amused and impressed at how quickly Liz got the story out of the men.
“We’ll talk of this later,” she said when she had heard enough. She glanced at Dennis, who didn’t look directly at her, and tried not to scowl. “Are you ready to go, Charles?”
“I’m not sure,” he said, grinning. “I think I have a few tattered shreds of eardrum left.” She favored him with a curled lip and half a smile.
“You’re leaving already?” Andrew asked. Disappointment tinged his voice.
“I’m worn out, Ondrew. Giddily happy, but worn out. I’m still out of shape, so it’s time for me to take him home, and then put my ass in bed. That way, I’ll live to do this again.” She hugged Andrew and Peach, and said goodbye to Drusilla.
Back in the car, Charles watched the snowy city roll past without saying anything as they drove back into town. Images of her dancing bounced through his head. After the first dance she’d scaled her attack down, becoming somewhat more self-absorbed and taken on a hint of the ever-more-steady grace she showed in class. She was a natural performer; whenever he looked, she seemed to be looking back at him, as if she were dancing only for him.
She broke the silence first, plucking at his knee to get his attention. “I hope you weren’t too bored,” she said. “Next time, we’ll go to a better place, and I’ll make you stay longer.”
He thought again of his sister, and could see what Nikki would have liked about Liz’ way of making outsiders feel included without being patronizing. “I wasn’t bored. It was very interesting…to see another side of you.”
“There’s still time to run screaming,” she said. They were pulling into a parking lot–her parking lot.
“Where I live,” Liz said. She stopped the car and turned toward him. “Come upstairs with me.”
Charles undid his seatbelt but made no move to open the door. “Your friends might get the wrong idea–“
She was halfway across the console, and still approaching. Charles backed up against the window, surprised, but there was nowhere else for him to go. Liz was halfway into his lap, her face an inch from his. “No, they won’t,” she whispered. Her lips touched his. “They’ll be exactly right.”
He didn’t have any words. He’d never met a woman as direct, as forward, as… “Liz, this isn’t–“
“If you’re going to say something that’ll irritate me,” she said, kissing him again, “then shut up.” It had been a perfect day so far, and he was not, repeat, not going to ruin it by being the lovable chaste klutz. She didn’t need or want a chaste lawyer tonight. She reached past him and pulled the recliner lever; the seatback went down with a thud, dropping Charles almost prone and bringing Liz down on top of him.
Charles kissed her back without even thinking about it, then pulled back as best as he could, turning his head to get an inch of breathing room. He was trying to think quickly, but couldn’t keep up with the situation. “Liz, I’m engaged. I have a fiancee.”
Goddammit! Not again! Liz was not spending tonight alone; she was too horny and she’d successfully negotiated a bar without taking a drink. She was spending the evening with flesh or glass, and there was no in-between. If she had to take Charles home, she was stopping by a bar on the way back, and that was that. So much for being a useful member of society. Period. “I’m not accepting that excuse tonight,” she said. She ran a hand up the inside of his thigh with a purring sound. “Come upstairs with me,” she said again, her voice hungry and just a bit lost, and kissed him again. “Now.” She pushed herself up off of him, and slipped out of the car. A moment later she was on his side of the car, taking his hand in one of hers. Charles’ fiancée, if she existed, was just going to have to loan him to her for the night.
He followed. He couldn’t help but follow. No one had ever done this to him before. The raw need in her voice grabbed at a part of him that was much, much lower than his brain, and even though he knew he should stand his ground and refuse, he went up to her apartment anyway. This minor battle of wills took place several more times in him that night, and the verdict was the same each time. Charles would have liked to have at least spent that whole nigh-sleepless night thinking of Andrea, or of finding Nikki, and how it was crucial that he stay in Liz’ good graces in order to do that.
But he didn’t, really.