6: Billiard Ball

“What is it about makeup sex?” Smile asked as he lay on his back beside Dori, looking up at the basement ceiling.  After a bit of necking on the sofa they had adjourned to the basement (as they often did for their midnight meetings), partially because Dori’s bedroom was right next to her aunt and uncle’s, and partly because her metal-framed bed squeaked like crazy.  Sometimes the headboard would bang against the wall, too.  Even if they hadn’t been worried about waking up the homeowners (although Smile had a feeling, from talking to Dori’s aunt, that they wouldn’t be pissed off anyway, just quietly glad that their niece was showing signs of normalcy), the shrieking springs were distracting.  Something about the cliche of the bed’s squeaking invariably got both of them giggling and ruined the moment.

“I dunno,” Dori replied sleepily.  With the lights off, Smile could just barely make out the aluminum ducts above him in the trickle of night-light that squirmed in through the narrow basement windows.  Dori was in a puddle of shadow and he couldn’t see her at all, couldn’t tell if her eyes were open or closed.  “Maybe s’cuz you’re so worked up and angry when you’re fighting that you can’t imagine anything working out in the end.  Every fight always feels like it’s the last straw, and you’re just going to have to say fuck this, and the last thing you think is that in a few hours you’re going to be screwing on a pool table.  And so it’s a surprise and a relief when it happens.”

“Actually, it was a rhetorical question,” he said.  “But thanks for the dissertation.”

“Welcome,” Dori said.

He pushed himself up on one elbow.  The basement was marvelously warm, even in early winter.  It was below freezing outside, and warm enough to lie naked with no blanket in the basement.  “Did you really feel that way?  Like it was the last straw?”  Her hanging up on him earlier had been much more abrupt than she usually got.  He didn’t know how to tell her that he was afraid their fights were getting worse, not better.  They weren’t learning how to communicate; they were learning how to piss each other off with greater efficiency.

“Every fight feels like that to me,” she said.  “I hate fighting.  Every time I argue with you, some part of me would rather just say fuck it and walk away, instead of working through it.  It hurts.  Physically.”

“Me, too,” he said.  “So let’s not fight any more.”

Dori chuckled softly, but there was less humor in it than usual.

The conversation was getting gloomy.  “I’m really sorry I yelled at you,” he said, and told her about the ticket.  “I wasn’t pissed off about the car.”

He felt her nod.  “Mmm.  Okay.”

Smile didn’t know if that meant he was forgiven or not.  Probably it did–Dori just didn’t hold grudges–but something in the tone of her voice made him unsure.  He decided to talk about something more cheerful, make her laugh.  Something to remind both of them why they were friends in the first place.  “I finally decided on a name for my cock,” he said.

She laughed again, this time with more mirth.  “Really?  What?”

“I’m going to call him Moby.”

“Like the musician?”

“No, shit for brains, like the whale!”  Smile knelt, then stood up on the table, putting his hand over his head so he didn’t bang it on the ducts (the thunderous impact would wake everyone up if he did).  “The sperm whale, I might add!  Whose last name is Dick!”  He felt the rough iron of one of the house’s foundation rails above him, and grabbed it with both hands, swinging above her in the half-dark, knees bent, the recently-dubbed Moby waggling suggestively.  Now Dori was laughing.  The mood was successfully rejuvenated.  “Call me Ishmael, bitch!” he growled, and dropped down so he was straddling her.

Presently they were enjoying a new post-coital lounge.  The pool table seemed none the worse for wear, although Smile had managed to stick his foot into a corner pocket and nearly wrenched his ankle out of joint rescuing it.

Exhausted, Dori was completely asleep this time.  Smile dressed quickly, pulled her into a sitting position, draped her pajama top over her naked shoulders, and then guided her upstairs.  Dori was fantastically compliant when she was asleep.  She could even walk and perform simple tasks without waking up.  He envied her the ability.

She didn’t so much as murmur as he tucked her into her bed and slipped in next to her.  She’d have been perfectly content to sleep naked on the pool table, but Smile’s sense of modesty and decorum was somewhat more conservative than hers.  It wouldn’t do to have her aunt finding them like that in the morning.  Andrea wouldn’t have been angry, but it was tacky.

There was more light up here; he could see her better.  Dori frowned when she slept, as if daring the world to bring her back from where she’d gone inside her head.  Somehow it seemed to be what passed for a contented look on her face though.  Sometimes she frowned during sex, too.  Dori would sort of space out on him, and stare past him, and frown a little.

“Where do you go?” he whispered in her ear.  “Why do you drift away?”

“Mm?  When?” she answered him.

“When we’re making love.”

“I don’ go anywhere,” she murmured.  “I like it.”

He touched her cheek.  “You don’t look like you do.  You look like you’re just watching, not feeling anything.”

“I do,” she said.  “I love you.”

And there it was.  The thing they both said that made them more than friends, even though things had seemed a lot happier and simpler before those stupid words came into it.  “Why do you say that?” he asked.

“Cuz I’m s’posed to,” Dori said.  That was worth arguing long and hard about, but she was completely asleep.  It wasn’t fair to be talking to her like this.  Who knew what fucked-up dream context she had been speaking in?  As if to lend credence to this hypothesis, Dori said, “There won’t be any eggs unless we make more chickens this week,” and rolled over onto her side.

And it wasn’t like she was always making him feel as though he had to get her attention while they were in bed together.  The pool table had been her idea, after all.  He replayed the day in his head.  They had fought, and it had been his fault, and they’d talked about it.  The more he thought it over, the better he felt.  There were still some unfinished issues, but overall it had been a good day.  Things were going to be okay.

Smile woke first in the morning, which was no surprise; Dori usually slept until eleven or twelve, unless acted upon by an outside force.  Smile woke around ten, dressed and got up.

The first few times he had stayed the night, he’d felt strange–residual high school sensibilities, he supposed.  It didn’t seem right to sleep with a girl and then chat with her folks in the morning over breakfast.  Seemed fundamentally wrong, in fact.  It was just another aspect of Dori’s weird home life that he was still getting used to.  When he ducked into the bathroom to wash his face and brush his teeth (he kept a toothbrush there), Dori’s aunt was in the kitchen, the living room television turned to some sort of home improvement show that didn’t feature Bob Vila.

Smile went into the kitchen, where the smells of toast and coffee conspired to raise his morning alertness level considerably.  “Good morning, Mrs. Miller,” he said.

“How are you doing, Smile?”

“Enh, you know,” he said as he sat down.  “I’ll be okay as soon as I get some of these points off my license.  Got pulled over again yesterday.  Hundred sixty buck ticket.”

“Oh, no!  You can’t get a break from them, can you?”

“Apparently not.”  He accepted a cup of coffee.

“Breakfast?”

“No, thank you.”

Andrea sat across from him.  The paper was in front of her, a half-finished crossword puzzle on the top page.  “Did you bring the Ypsilanti paper with Dori in it?  I saw it in the living room.”

He smiled.  “Yeah.  I’ll see if they printed a retraction today.”

“I called this morning,” she said, “to see if they were aware that she’d been questioned and released, not arrested at all.  I hope this doesn’t cause any trouble for her.  Did she tell you that we talked about her moving out?” Andrea asked, glancing over Smile’s shoulder at the clock.

“You mean, she’s thinking of getting her own place?”  Smile felt as if he were watching a grade-school friend grow up before his eyes.

“She hasn’t made any plans.  We talked about it a little bit.  I thought it would be good for her, to get out on her own.”  She sighed.  “I don’t know, I suppose I’m just worried that we’ve made it too comfortable for her here.  She’s a bit old to still be living in a room with furniture that we originally bought for a thirteen-year old girl, don’t you think?  I worry about what that might be doing to her emotionally.”

Smile shrugged.  He wasn’t sure what to say when his girlfriend’s guardian was asking him questions like this.  He and Andrea talked about Dori when she wasn’t around sometimes, but right now it felt like she was fishing for something.  Gathering ammunition, perhaps.  Or maybe she expected Dori to move in with him?  “Do you want to kick her out?” he asked, hoping to turn it around and get out of the hot seat.

Andrea sat back, raising her hands in negation.  “Oh, no, of course not.  I told her she’s welcome to stay here as long as she likes.  I just think that her depressive episodes–“

She has depressive episodes? Smile thought, confused.  Dori sometimes complained that her aunt could be off-base, but this was the first time he’d seen it.

“–might get better if she were self-sufficient.  That’s all.  I suppose it’s unfair to talk about it behind her back, though.  How’s your grandmother?”

“It’s getting better,” he said.  It had come up in conversation a week or two before that Smile’s grandmother had moved in with them, because she couldn’t take care of herself any more.  There was some friction at the Kazemi household as a result.  Smile had been spending a more time at his parents’ home refereeing ancient mother-daughter disputes than he had in his own apartment lately.  “My mom isn’t threatening to move in with me any more.  Now she just talks about taking poison and showing us all,” he added with a grin.

“That’s too bad,” Andrea said.

“It’s no big deal.  At least she’s not serious about it,” he said somewhat absently.  His mind was spinning with the idea of Dori having depressive episodes (if she did, she’d hidden them from him completely) and the idea of her moving in with him.  He only had a one bedroom, but it wasn’t like there wasn’t space.  Unfortunately that thought gave rise to the question of if he’d consider marrying her, which led directly to wondering how long it would be before they killed one another.

Which brought him right back to the question he’d managed to talk himself out of worrying about last night, that of the precise benefits each of them was reaping from this relationship, or the lack thereof.  Smile was beginning to feel like they were only together because neither of them possessed sufficient will to bother the other by breaking up.

No, that wasn’t it either.  He was just tired of fighting with her and wanting to take the easy way out.  Andrea conveniently distracted him by asking him about his classes.  “How is the EMT training going?”

“Pretty good,” Smile said, unconscious enthusiasm creeping into his voice.  “I have about twenty hours of course work left once this semester is over.  Then it’s test time.”

Dori shuffled out of bed perhaps half an hour later, looking as if she’d gone a few rounds with Evander Holyfield before getting out of bed thanks to the dog bites and bruises on her face.  Her eyes were barely open.  She dropped into the chair next to smile and murmured good morning.  “Sleep okay?” he asked.

“No, I kept dreaming about Herculoids.”

“About what?”

“Herculoids.  Don’t you remember, that post-apocalyptic cartoon that used to be on?  There was this barbarian guy, and a girl who rode a pterodactyl, and a rhino-looking thing with six legs that shot fireballs from its horn.  Anyway, I dreamed about that all night.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Smile said.  “Maybe you made the whole cartoon up in your dream.”

She shook her head, opening her eyes as the blood started moving through her brain.  “No, it was real.  You’re just uncultured.”

He smiled.  “Coffee?”

“Much.”

The day consisted mostly of errands, once Dori woke up enough to deal with the world.  Smile tagged along, perhaps in part to make up for being irritable about her buying it, and they searched for and found a pair of black fuzzy dice for the rearview mirror, too.  “Corny,” Dori said, but she didn’t take them down either.  They got into an argument over a late lunch about the fact that Smile hadn’t taken her to see his family since they had started dating, even though she’d met them before that.  It ended perilously close to time for her to work, and with her saying something incredibly vicious she didn’t mean:  “So I’m good enough to be your friend, but not to fuck you, is that it?”  She couldn’t even remember exactly what she’d said half an hour later, but it had had the result of Smile leaving angry and her feeling angry and sad for saying it.

Dori had no choice but to take the mad to work with her.  When she arrived, at five-twenty on the dot (ten minutes early, thank you very much), she was introduced to Daniel, the new night manager.  He was about six-four and athletic, and just as blond and chipper as Bree was, and in fact the second thing out of his mouth had to do with his fellow parishioner.  “It’s great to meet you, Dori!” he said, pumping her hand eagerly.  “I think we’re going to have a good time over the next few months!  By the way, do you know where Bree lives?  It looks like she left her purse when she went home.  We chatted for a while when I came in and she was on her way out, and I guess it just slipped her mind!”

“I know where her house is,” Dori said.

“Since you’re early, do you think maybe you could…?”  Daniel tilted his head, puppy-fashion.

Actually, Dori didn’t mind, but the way he asked she found even more immediately annoying than his way of ending every sentence like it had an exclamation point.  She sighed.  “I guess,” she said, shrugging her coat back on.  She tried to be cheerful; at least she could spend some more time in her cool new car.  Something about it felt pointless, though.

Bree lived with her parents (which made sense, seeing as how she was eighteen) on the western end of Ypsilanti, near Ann Arbor.  The sun was gone for the day, and it was getting cold as Dori marched diligently to the door, Bree’s purse in her hand.  She hadn’t dressed with trips outdoors in mind, and the wind was cutting.  Just one more thing to be irritable about.

The door was answered by a teenaged girl with dark hair, who looked a lot like Bree but in a dusky, brunette sort of way.  Dori introduced herself, and the girl turned around halfway through the introduction and screamed Bree’s name into the house.  She hadn’t even bothered to turn on the porch light.

“Bree talked about you,” she said.

“Really?” Dori asked.

The girl nodded.  From somewhere in the house, footsteps were approaching.  “I’m Taylor.  Bree’s sister.”

“Well…um.  You look like sisters,” Dori said, not sure of what else to tell the girl, who was looking her up and down like she might an exotic animal.  She recognized the look.  It was on the tip of Dori’s tongue to tell Taylor that she was dating a guy now, and thus no longer qualified as her big sister’s Lesbian Coworker, but Bree arrived before that needed to be done.

“Ohmigod!” she gushed.  “You found it!”

“Actually, Daniel did.  He asked me to bring it.”

“You are such a lifesaver, Dori, thank you!”

“It’s no problem.  I should get back, though.”  Dori glanced at Taylor, who had retreated a few steps but was still staring at her.  She couldn’t resist the urge to wave at the girl as she was leaving.  Taylor looked surprised, as if she hadn’t realized she was staring, and waved back with a shy smile.  Dori wondered what the girl would tell her friends.

Back at Pandora’s things were moderately dead, judging by the parking lot.  That wasn’t weird, it being Wednesday and all.  But it was fine.  She was going to have a hard enough time teaching Daniel how to do everything.  Which, regardless of what anyone said, she would.  She had pretty much taught the last three night managers.  Shit, how many had there been since she started?  It had never occurred to her that she’d been working there longer than anyone else on staff right now.  That was a dubious honor, and added to the nagging sense in the back of her head, that something about her life was waxing pointless.

There were three customers by the door, sharing a smoke before they went in.  As she parked her car and beelined for the door, so they’d hopefully see her and be polite enough to step out of the way, one of them saw her coming and pointed.  “That’s her,” he said.  “The chick that knifed Sinclair.”

All three of them were wearing University of Michigan football sweatshirts.