The server work was supposed to take two hours and took five. Normally that would have spoiled the entire Sunday, but Liz had promised dinner, so all it meant was that Andrew had less time to kill beforehand. Now there was no time to go home first. He figured he’d probably beat her home, but he was in the mood to sit in a parking lot with the truck running and wait anyhow.
Drusilla had called him at work to report that it wasn’t working out and maybe they should just forget it. This had to be a new record for him; he’d never dated anyone for less than a week before. Not since high school, at least. The whole thing bothered him more than he wanted it to, especially considering that he hadn’t been all that into her in the first place.
It left him feeling strange, and he stopped by the porno shop in Ypsilanti almost without thinking about it. It was on the way to Liz’ house, and it wasn’t like he’d never been there before. It was a timekiller; he hadn’t even really thought about buying anything, and he certainly hadn’t been thinking about the movie Liz had been in, not consciously.
Not until he saw it. When the “Doctor Ray’s” series hove into view, the powder-blue boxes with the red lettering stopped him in his tracks. He’d promised her he wouldn’t watch them, and that was easy enough in concept, but now they were right here, they were real. Liz was on one of those videos. Naked. More than naked.
His hand seemed to reach out of its own free will, turning the box of the first one in the fifteen-video series toward him. She wasn’t on it. Good. He shouldn’t have looked in the first place, and now it was good because he hadn’t looked. But the hand kept going, and turned over the second one, too. She wasn’t there, either. Now he was curious, he couldn’t stop. Looking at the box wouldn’t hurt. They didn’t show that much on the box anyway. Andrew checked out the third video in the series, then the fourth, both relieved and disappointed each time he didn’t see her, feeling more and more like he was playing a game of Russian roulette.
Liz was in the seventh installment of the series. He recognized her green hair immediately, and had to admit that she did look pretty sexy with an oversized green popsicle in her mouth, arms crossed to both hide and emphasize her naked breasts. Andrew suddenly wanted to see the video more than anything. She’d never know–he could just watch it, and that wouldn’t be a big deal, right?
He turned it over. He was just curious–maybe she’d be naked on the back, and seeing her nude wouldn’t do anything but solve his curiosity and make him stop thinking about it all the time. On the back of the box Liz was naked, just as he’d thought, but he couldn’t see anything. The popsicle in her mouth was replaced by a big dick, and she was straddling a second guy’s lap with her back turned to the camera. He could see the beautiful tattoo that covered her back from shoulderblades to tailbone, and the curve of her ass, but only just the side of her breast and no nipple at all. She had turned to look over her shoulder so the camera could see that her chin was glistening with cum. And–good God–he’d seen that smile before, it was the wicked, familiar grin she got when making a really dirty joke. It was like she was looking right back at him and knew it was him, Andrew, not some perverted stranger. The smile and the mess on her face brought him back to the present, made him realize what he was doing, and he hastily thrust the box back onto the shelf. He was too late not to have read the vignette next to her picture though: “KIARA: Natural Tits! We picked up pierced and painted Kiara at a goth club. She said she’d never heard of Doctor Ray but agreed to an examination. We educated the stupid slut, gave her the exam of a lifetime, and dumped her off in time for dinner.”
Andrew wanted to punch Doctor Ray in the face. He knew the story was probably fake, but it was Liz, goddammit. The story made her sound like the town pump, and it enraged him to read her talked about that way, even though it was all a joke.
He clenched his fist and tried to erase the image of Liz, obviously hammered out of her skull, with jizz on her lips and that sultry, knowing smile on her face, but it wouldn’t go away. Of course, it served him right, for looking in the first place. Andrew left the video store and tried to put Doctor Ray out of his mind. It was just a video, something that was in her past. So why was he jealous of Doctor Ray? They guy didn’t even know her real name.
And why did part of him still want to see the damn video? His curiosity hadn’t been satisfied at all. Scared off for the moment, but it would be back, he could tell. He wandered around some more, looking at some other video boxes to try and get the image of Liz on that guy’s lap out of his head.
He dawdled in driving to her house, knowing she was probably still at work. Andrew drove with the window open, letting the frigid air clear his head out a bit. He actually looked forward to her teasing him about dating flaky goth girls, but he wasn’t sure she’d do it. He was irrationally worried about burdening her with his crap–he’d seen her delerium tremens and had the feeling it was just the tip of the iceberg of what she was going through. The last thing she needed was his drama on top of it. In the past Liz had been the one who took care of all of them, and since she’d come back he’d only seen glimpses of that old attitude; she was turned inward, almost like she was hiding something. Maybe she was sick of being the group’s mom. Tonight, though, he really needed her and had decided to risk it. If she wasn’t up to helping, he supposed, that would tell him something about what had changed too.
Finally at the parking lot, he sat back in the seat, bumping the back of his head lightly against the cold rear window. Tonight, they’d probably watch Short Cuts again (she was obsessed with that movie) and he could bitch about Drusilla, and Liz would tease him but pay attention at the same time, and feed him some wonderful dinner and everything would be, if not better, then at least on an even keel. He hoped. Hanging out with women after a breakup was twenty times better than going out with the guys. Even Peach didn’t seem to understand that sometimes it just felt good to sulk, instead of sucking it up and getting drunk and going on about how it was no big deal and how Dru hadn’t been that good in bed anyway.
Not that he knew. Dammit, he had to master the art of the one-night stand and one-week fling, the way Dennis had. It was almost unfathomable that that guy was bothering to get married when he could have pretty much anyone he wanted, whenever he wanted. Okay, fine, he was being childish, but you couldn’t help but envy the guy all the sex he had, in any case.
He was taken out of his ruminations by the sight of Liz’ stepmother coming down the steps, out of Liz’ apartment. He hadn’t even known she was there–yup, there was her car. He hadn’t noticed. Andrew shut off the engine and hopped out to go say hello. He knew Ted and Margo were spying on Liz, and didn’t like it, but Ted was her father, and Liz had made the deal with him. “Hey, Margo,” he called.
Margo turned around, surprised, and smiled. “Oh, hello. Andrew, is it?”
“Yes, ma’am. If I’d known you were in there, I’d have come in where it was warm.”
“Would you like me to let you in? I can go back up and unlock the door. I just came over to drop off some dinner for Liz. I made some gumbo the other night and thought she might like to have some. I guess I beat her home,” she said, her big pale blue eyes locked on Andrew’s.
How old was Margo again? She was in her early thirties, he thought. He knew Liz didn’t like her because she was so young. Compared to Liz’ mom she was a flake, too; he had met Midori, and it was easy to see why Liz had no respect for Margo, who lived to be supported by her husband. “She doesn’t usually get home till around six.” He wondered if it was a good idea to be telling Margo too much about Liz’ routine, but he’d already said it so there was no point in agonizing too much over it now. He knew Liz would be annoyed if she came home and found him in her house though. Happy to see him, but just a little annoyed. She liked to have the opportunity to invite her guests in. “I can just wait in my truck though, thanks.”
“Well. It was nice seeing you. I’m in a bit of a hurry, so…I’m sorry to be rude.”
“Oh, no problem.” He walked with her partway to her car, to make sure she didn’t slip on the snow, and then went back to his truck and cranked the heat back up.
Liz arrived ten minutes later, at six on the dot. When the got inside she asked Andrew one of his favorite questions: “What do you want to eat?”
“I dunno,” he said. He set himself up at the kitchen table, chin on his hands, and she placed an open carton of ice cream with a spoon in it in front of him, for some reason. She brought the ice cream with her, probably bought it on the way home, and had taken it straight out of the bag and put it in front of him. Must be a girl thing. “Margo brought some food,” he said. “Saw her before you got home.”
She snorted. “Well, we won’t eat that, then. You can take it home with you if you want; I can’t stand her cooking. Is this it? Jesus, I hate gumbo, too. Don’t forget to take this when you go. I also have lasagna for you. I almost forgot.”
“Aww, don’t remind me that I have to go. I like your apartment,” he said. “It’s like an oasis in this fucked-up world.”
“Oh, it’s real homey, I’m sure,” she replied with a frown. “I’ve barely been living here a month, Ondrew.”
“I know. Something about it, though. You have a way of making a place seem like home.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere. So tell me about the evil that Drusilla hath wrought.”
He sighed. “It’s no big deal. She just called and broke it off. Said it wasn’t working out, something like that. Apparently I’m just not interesting enough.” Andrew looked at the ice cream; chocolate chip flavored. He scooped out a big spoonful.
“It is a big deal,” Liz said. She decided they’d settle for some less-than-exotic spaghetti and pulled out a jar of sauce, which she’d modify with extra seasonings. It was quicker than making sauce from scratch and almost as good. “And is that your interpretation, or hers?”
“That you’re not interesting enough for her.”
“It’s yours, isn’t it?” Liz took a moment to give him a little backwards hug. “More likely she just couldn’t handle you. You’re too goddamned nice, and she was looking for a replica of her father. Someone to smack her around and make her feel legitimate in her misery.”
He laughed. “Oh, that’s cold.”
“And probably true. I tell you, you’re too happy for these girls. They’re terminally depressed, as a species, and they don’t want to be cheered up. But that’s all you try to do with them.” She left him and returned to the kitchen. Two pots went on the stove; one to brown meat in, the other to boil water for the pasta. “You’ve got this knight in shining armor complex. They don’t deserve you, to be honest. Let her go and find some asshole who’ll treat her like shit. You look for someone better.” There was no ground beef thawed. Damn. Should’ve bought some when she stopped for the ice cream. Liz opened the freezer and saw a bottle of vodka staring back at her.
She slammed the fridge, hard.
Andrew had started to say something, but turned around when the refrigerator rattled violently. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m losing my goddamn mind, that’s what’s wrong.” She opened the freezer again. “I keep buying them and not realizing it, Ondrew.” She didn’t mention that she knew this because when she did buy one, she got something small and drank the whole thing. “That’s the second one.”
He got up, thinking of the full-size bottle he’d found in her freezer. “What happened to the other one?”
“Put it outside the door. Some student probably stole it.” Liz was looking at the floor, clenching and unclenching her hands. She knew she was being a hypocrite–she’d bought herself plenty of drinks this week, but she wasn’t going to keep it in the house. Liz wanted to be thinking when she cheated on herself, wanted to at least be cognizant of what she was doing. That seemed like enough. She’d gotten lucky that Ted hadn’t shown up to breathalyze her today. She had to stop this, and she knew she was doing the best she could and it wasn’t very good. “That’s yours now,” she said, putting the bottle on the table.
“I’m not going to drink in front of you.”
“I don’t mind,” she said.
“I’ll just dump it.”
“Don’t. Drink it. If you get fucked up you can sleep here. It’ll make you feel better, and it won’t bother me, and I promise not to touch your special places.” Andrew snorted laughter. Liz nodded toward it. “Drink it, Ondrew,” she ordered.
“Well, if you don’t mind.” With a satisfied chuckle, he took the bottle, cradling it as if it were a rare chablis.
“You could stand to get a little drunk tonight, I think.” She was jealous of him for being able to, and hoped it didn’t show.
“I don’t know, the ice cream is working pretty well.” Andrew sat back down at the table with the vodka; Liz slid a glass to him.
“Never fails. Next week we’re going downtown, too, and I don’t care about what kinds of assholes are there. That will cheer you up, too. It’s our place and we should be able to go there if we want to. So let’s change the subject. I was thinking all day that maybe I’ve just got an addictive personality, so I ought to substitute one addiction for another, before one chooses itself. What do you think?”
“I think I’m going to interrupt you. Liz, when was the last time you were home?” The bottle was clear and inviting.
“So you bought this last night.”
“In theory. I don’t remember.”
“Well, it’s not cold,” he said.
There was irritation in her voice; she didn’t want to think about the vodka any more. “What?”
“It was in the freezer, right? But it’s still warm, babe. No frost. It…” He trailed off, and they looked at each other.
Liz broke the silence with a scream. “That BITCH!” She grabbed her car keys and ran for the door. Andrew was right behind her.