“Dance afterward?” Liz asked Charles when she picked him up for the Sunday aikido session.
To his surprise, he was rather happy to see her. He had expected awkwardness, but she didn’t seem to feel any. Sitting around the condo with Katz gone had been less pleasant than he had expected, and he was looking forward to being around semi-familiar people for a while. Nonetheless, he didn’t intend to go to The Barn tonight. “No, thanks. I need to work this evening.”
She smiled. “Understandable.”
“I hope you don’t mind driving me to class anyway.”
“Not a problem. I can run you home before I go to meet Ondrew and the others.” His decision not to go didn’t seem to affect her opinion of him. In fact, Liz was ebullient and happy all through class. She seemed to be remembering more of her training, and spent half her time helping Charles and another student who was struggling. And she enjoyed herself immensely, shedding the dour, put-upon face she’d been wearing when he’d met her completely. Once again he could see why Nikki had liked her. The class went quickly and he was surprised to find that he was actually having fun.
Liz stopped by her apartment after dropping Charles off; she’d driven that way anyway; might as well change into something other than her aikido sweats. Going out dancing was more fun when you could look cool, after all.
Peach was waiting for her in the lobby of her apartment building. The smell of his pipe filled the small area, a welcome contrast to the usual BO-cigarettes-bad carpet smell of the lobby.
“Hey, Peach, sweetie, what’s up?” She gave him a smile, but he didn’t return it.
“We have to talk,” Peach said.
“Cool, c’mon in.” She led the way up. “Going over to The Barn tonight?” Liz tossed her keys on the table and slid an ashtray to him.
“Not tonight,” he said.
She shrugged, glad to have seen him when she wouldn’t have otherwise. “I just dropped by to change, you’re lucky you caught me.”
“Lucky, indeed,” he said.
“Want something to drink, a snack?”
“You go and change,” he said, his hand tracing a pattern on the table around her keys. “I’ll be fine.”
She looked at him for a moment, and he met the gaze. “Are you okay, Peach?”
“Right as rain,” he said, his face expressionless. “Go on.”
Liz went into the bedroom area with a frown, pulling the curtain closed behind her. She changed quickly, into black jeans and a lime-green T-shirt (she had cut her hair, but she’d been doing chartreuse clothes for so long it was hard to break the habit) and returned.
Peach had finished his pipe and was putting it away. He didn’t hesitate to break the ice. “I went downtown last night,” he said. “And I saw someone who looked a lot like you, getting lots of drinks bought for her.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, but couldn’t help a flush of shame. “Did you, now? See anything else?”
He didn’t let her look away. “I couldn’t be sure, but it looked like you got fucked on the hood of a car. That might have been a trick of the light, though.” Peach had always been even more stoic than she was, and she’d forgotten that. Liz realized suddenly that he was furious, and it wasn’t hard to figure out why. He saw the look of understanding on her face, and nodded. “So, have you got anything you want to talk about?”
“I don’t know if I do.”
“Don’t stare at me like that, Peach.”
“How am I staring at you?”
“Like the stubby goddamn judgmental intellectual that you sometimes are,” she said, getting annoyed. “Were you following me around?”
“Not at all. I had stopped by to say hello to Mark, that’s all. I don’t see him anywhere except at Cellar Dweller, you know.” Peach tapped the chair opposite him with his foot. “Have a seat.”
She didn’t want to, but she did. “I had a rough day,” she said. “I was just unwinding.”
“Falling back into old habits, you mean.”
“Oh, screw you. I’m in control of myself.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Are you, now?”
“I’m holding down a job, aren’t I? I’m not lying unconscious on the floor, am I? Don’t look at me like you understand what’s going on with me.”
“I won’t pretend to. But I think you need to make a decision.”
Peach leaned back in the chair, his chin in his hand and his face neutral. The anger had passed. “You need to decide if you’re quitting or not. A lot of people around here care a lot about you, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Liz glared at him.
“I’m serious. A lot of people are standing behind you while you try to get clean, my dear, and if you’re not really planning to go through with it, I’m sure they’ve got better things to do.”
“I didn’t ask for your help.”
“But you’re getting it anyway, because we care about you. Some of us love you quite a lot, present company included. The least you can do is be honest with us.”
“Fuck you, Peach. I didn’t ask you to be the fun-police. Mind your own business.”
“If that’s what you really want me to do, you’re going to be disappointed. I’d rather have you sober and hating my guts than dead, personally.”
That hurt. She felt a tickle in the back of her throat, like she was going to cry, and swallowed it angrily. “I’m sure. What did Ondrew and the others say when you told them?” Liz suddenly wondered if she wanted to go out to The Barn after all. A night of lectures wasn’t something she was in the mood for.
“I didn’t tell them, and I don’t plan to. What you do with yourself is up to you. All I’m asking is that you be honest about what you’re trying to do.” He stood up. “I’ve got to go. Tell Andrew I said hi.”