A theme old as dirt…
The day had started so right. How could it have gone wrong so quickly?
Danny’s eyes teared, only in part from the scalding mouthful of burnt coffee, black and bitter as his mood had become.
Susan put the empty coffee pot in the sink. “You’re angry, and it’s my fault. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have let things take the direction they did last night. I don’t want to hurt you.”
He forced a weak smile. Too late. “No, I’m fine.”
“You sure? I mean, it would be uncomfortable. With us being neighbors. You know.”
“Okay, then.” She smiled, gave him a peck on the cheek. “Friends?”
Danny bit down on his burned tongue. He wanted to shove Susan onto the kitchen floor and make love to her again, wanted to throw a tantrum, like a toddler who’d just been told he couldn’t have that thing he wanted in the checkout line. He felt his face reddening, realized he needed to leave now. “Uh, yeah.” He patted his pockets to locate his keys and smokes, flashed an insincere smile and went for the door. “I’ll see you ’round.” She didn’t even see him out.
Downstairs in his apartment he popped a couple of Paxil so as not to vomit his breakfast of coffee and crushing humiliation. And he lay on his bed, still in jacket and boots, smoked a cigarette and stared hard at the ceiling. His eyes burned holes through it, into Susan’s bedroom, where last night he’d made love to her as he’d never made love in his life.
Involuntary tears spilled from his eyes. He sat up and crushed out his smoke. He had to get out, find something to distract him, to loosen this knot in the pit of his stomach. He hauled himself to his feet and made his way to the door to leave the apartment.
Just outside his door, a girl stood with one hand on her shoulder bag, the other poised to knock. She had chin-length blond hair sticking out from beneath a knit cap, a denim jacket, and the face of a child lost at a mall, a barely-concealed panic.
“Whaddya want?” he snarled. He pulled the door shut behind him, and she backed up a couple feet to give him space. Smart girl. He had no desire to interact with females. Not today, maybe never.
“Um…can you tell me if Jacob Sanders lives here?” The words came out shaky.
Danny sucked in a long breath, let it out slow. “Yeah. He’s my roomie. He’s spending a few weeks in the Hamptons with his fiancée.” It seemed to take a moment for his words to register. “And no, I don’t have his number,” he added. He shrugged, walked past her and started down the stairs.
“Bastard,” he heard her mutter.
Danny felt the word like a light blow to the chest. He stopped. “Beg pardon?”
She stepped up to the railing, looked down at him. “Oh, not you. Him. Jacob. But maybe you’re a bastard, too. Most men are, from what I’ve heard.”
Any other day, Danny would have laughed, blown it off and gone on his way. But there was a nest of vipers twisting in his rib-cage, just waiting to spit venom. He spun on a heel and stomped back up the stairs glaring daggers. The blonde’s face went white and she retreated a few steps, looking ready to scream for help. He jabbed a finger in her direction. “Listen, you…I don’t know what the deal was between you and Jake, maybe he was a bastard, maybe you got what you had coming to you. Think you need balls to be a dick? I’ve had high heels ground into my heart more times than I care to remember. I been baited and bludgeoned senseless by beautiful bitches who had nothing in mind for me but a paid dinner and maybe a good fucking. Next day I’m as done as last night’s condom. I’ve bitten into so much fruit that looked sweet and tasted like vinegar, I figure I must have some kinda invisible tattoo that says ‘sucker’ on my forehead that women can see a mile away. So sorry, you won’t find a whole lotta sympathy here.”
She stared at him, clutching her bag to her chest, eyes brimming.
Danny rolled his shoulders to let go of the tension in his neck and traps. He felt tight as a hanged man’s noose. “Look, I’m sorry. Just…not a good morning.”
“No,” she agreed. Water spilled down her cheeks. “It’s not. I’m sorry, too.”
He snorted. “For what?”
“I’m sorry you’ve been hurt a lot.”
Danny’s mind jumped back to his first heartbreak. Cecilia, seven years ago, he was fifteen. Man, that one still stung. He thought at the time that he’d never get over it, that he’d never fall hard for a girl again. But he had. Again and again.
The girl swiped at the tears and ran the back of her hand under her nose, sniffled. Geez, she looked pretty young. “How old are you?”
“Eighteen. Why do you want to know?”
He felt a sympathetic smile pull at the corners of his mouth despite the pain in his chest. “You know you got a lot more shit like this ahead of you, right?”
“I hope not.”
“It always hurts, but you get over it quicker as time goes on.” He said the words before even considering whether they were true. He thought maybe they were.
“Yeah. I think so.”
A door closed upstairs. The clack of boot heels on laminate floors, and then down the stairs. Susan. Danny could feel his pulse in his ears. Susan glanced at him, then at the girl and stopped in her tracks for just a second. Danny noted the quick, forced smile, the piercing look she gave this girl. She cleared her throat as she passed between them. “Good morning,” she said, and went down the stairs. Her eyes rose for one more furtive glance.
Danny took a deep breath and let it out. He assessed his mental state. He felt a little shaky, but not too bad.
The girl watched Susan for a moment, then turned to Danny. Her eyes fired a question at him. He ignored it.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Tina. Whatcha gonna do now?”
“I don’t really know…I’d planned to…” She looked like she might start crying again.
“I mean, Jacob’s history, right? You’re not gonna waste your time trying to hunt him down, right? Because it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. You got taken in.” Tina threw an angry glance at him. Danny shrugged. “Right? I mean, you’re not alone. I know something about that.”
Hint of a smile. Tina looked at him from beneath long lashes. “That one? The one who just passed?”
Danny rubbed his nose, thought a moment about how much he should admit to. What the hell. She’s nobody to me. “Among others. Like I said, I don’t seem to catch on really quick. I’m not a moron, but I’m a little–I dunno, a little–”
“That mean thick-headed?”
“Uh-huh.” She smiled.
It was a nice smile. Danny noticed she had a few freckles on her nose. And she was smart, too. “Yeah, I’m a little obtuse.”
“And I’m an ingenue.”
Danny smiled back, decided not to ask what that was. “I was just about to go grab some breakfast. My fridge is empty. Could I…you wanna…” Blue eyes locked onto his, waited for him to finish. “You hungry? You wanna go grab a breakfast or cup of coffee somewhere?”
Danny turned his head on the pillow to look at Tina, napping beside him. He carefully pushed back the bed cover and sat up, put his feet on the floor, reached for his cigarettes on the nightstand. Damn, that had moved quick. Probably because she was feeling shitty and insecure, having just found out about Jacob. Danny himself was feeling a lot better than he had this morning. The saying, “the hair of the dog that bit you,” came to mind.
He hadn’t had to do much. Buy her breakfast. Listen to her talk. Nod and smile while he wondered whether she wore bikinis or a thong, what her tits looked like. What had gone on between her and Jake. He didn’t ask.
He lit a cigarette and smiled. Turned out they were pretty nice tits. But not exactly worth the trouble of putting up with her. She was sort of annoying. Talked too much about too many things he had no interest in. Her family. Her art studies. Her ex-boyfriends.
Danny glanced back over his shoulder at her, then at his watch. Half past five. He thought about heading downtown, grabbing some pizza and then hitting a club or two. It was Saturday evening, after all. But this chick in his bed…damn. How did Susan do it? Oh yeah: “I have a very full agenda today, so if you wouldn’t mind getting your things together…I need to get out of here in a little while.”
He he’d managed to keep it together in front of Susan, but he bet Tina wouldn’t. He thought about leaving a note and telling her to lock the door behind her when she left, but then worried that she might trash the place. She seemed immature enough for that.
He sighed. Then he twisted around and grabbed her shoulder, shook it a little. “Yo, Tina…I need to get out of here in a bit. Think you could get dressed now?”
She looked at him, sleepy, confused.
Shit. He’d have to lie to get her to leave without a scene. “I’m supposed to hook up with some friends this evening. I…we’re helping one of our buddies move.” Okay, that didn’t sound too bad for being off the cuff.
She smiled, twirled a lock of hair between her fingers. “I could hang out here…wait for you. Be here when you get back. I could pick up some things…cook dinner. You know, to pay you back for breakfast this morning.”
Danny felt a panicky rush. No. No, he couldn’t let her into his life just to save her feelings. Jacob was a player, had this shit down. So did Susan. He could do this.
He shook his head. “No, you can’t.” Look her in the eye, man. You got this. “Look, Tina, today was real nice, and I had a great time, but that’s what it was. We both kinda needed to be with somebody, and found each other for a day, y’know? I shouldn’ta let things go as far as they did. Sorry about that.”
The tears he expected, but her face reddened. With anger. “You bastard,” she said, and bit her lip, tossed the covers back, got out of bed. “So that’s how it is.” She plucked a pair of pink bikini panties from the floor and pulled them on. “Just one more bastard in a long line of bastards. This is what I’m supposed to get used to? I don’t think so.”
“I’m sorry,” Danny said. He was. Not for trying to brush her off, not for trying to lie to her. Sorry he couldn’t get her out of his apartment without a scene.
She yanked her jeans up and finger-combed her hair back from her face. “So Susan fucks you over, and you get back at her by fucking me over? Oh, you’re a real prize, just like Jacob.”
Danny stood frozen, the ash on his cigarette growing long. He almost didn’t recognize her as the same girl who stood in front of his door this morning, pale and teary-eyed. Her face was livid, her jaw set like a steel trap as she glared at him. Any features he’d found attractive in her had fled. She snatched her bag from the floor, rummaged through it and pulled out a handkerchief.
Who the hell still uses handkerchiefs?
It was wrapped around a .22. She pointed it at him. “I was hoping to meet Jacob here this morning, but I don’t think he’ll mind if you take a message.”