The Beast, Pt. 31 (Chapter 14b)

Hey, let’s try and finish this damn novel, eh what? For those of you who don’t remember where we left off, don’t worry! I don’t either!

I clear my throat, push myself to my feet, dust myself off. “No worries, no worries. Sorry about that. I was expecting someone else, I guess.”

“Sorry to disappoint.”

I shake my head more emphatically than I intend, my heart still beating staccato in my chest. “Not a disappointment. Believe me.”

She stares at me in silence for a moment, a smile on her lips, but behind her sunglasses, her eyebrows have knit themselves into a look of intense concentration. She’s studying me. I feel very naked suddenly, very aware that I could stand to lose some weight, that I should do more bicep curls, that the hair on my chest ought to be trimmed into a pleasing shape and not left utterly unmanaged. “You’re the guy from the craps table, right? The big winner? Prone to boasting and kissing unsuspecting women?”

I frown. “As I recall, you kissed me first.”

“Oh, so you do remember me! Also, I kissed you on the cheek. I didn’t jam my tongue down your throat.”

My lips twist like I’ve just been punched in the gut. I am a teenager again, every word coming out of my mouth wrong, my behavior selfish and stupid. “I was caught in the heat of the moment,” I mutter. She throws back her head and laughs, the gesture smooth and practiced. This is a woman who laughs a lot. If that’s because she’s often amused or because her life has given her reason to practice it so she can call upon it at a moment’s notice, I can’t say.

“Don’t get so defensive,” she says with a smile. “It was the heat of the moment. I get that. You’d just won big, you’re with your friends, you’re feeling invincible, and there’s a pretty girl. Why not kiss her?”

She just sits there smiling up at me and I can feel my cheeks burn hotter under her gaze than they have been under the artificial sun. “I’m sorry. Really. It was rude of me. I didn’t mean to force myself upon you or take advantage of you or anything like that.”

She laughs again, more naturally this time, which I suppose is as good a reaction as I could have hoped for, all things considered. “Oh, you’re cute,” she says, still chuckling a little bit. “What rom-com did you walk out of?”

I don’t have a good response to that, so I don’t say anything at all. Thankfully, the woman doesn’t seem to be expecting me to as she goes on without more than a moment’s hesitation. “So, what happened to that party you and your friends were going to throw? That wasn’t all just talk, was it?”

“It wasn’t, but we got distracted. Guy stuff. You know how it goes.”

“Gay orgy?” she says with smirk.

“No, but there was a lot of man-on-man cuddling,” I say smirking right back at her.

Her smirk grows into a grin, and behind her sunglasses her eyebrows furrow themselves, the whole effect giving her a sadistic air. “You know, in my experience the only kinds of men okay with making fun of their own sexuality are the supremely confident and the supremely desperate. Which are you, I wonder?”

My frown gives it all away in that moment. I pride myself on being the kind of guy that can laugh at himself, that can poke fun at himself, that doesn’t fall apart at a little teasing, but goddamn if some things don’t just hit too close to home.

The eyebrows soften. She laughs, this one a practiced gesture, her head thrown back, her hand rising to cover her mouth. Her lips are not thin but they are not full. They are the red of blood, her teeth white as bone. Lady Lazarus here eats men like air, and I am suddenly very aware what a pitiful morsel I am. “I’m joking, I’m joking. Really, you need to relax. You’d think someone as rich as you wouldn’t be so high strung. Shouldn’t you be snapping your fingers and telling your bodyguards, ‘Remove the wench?’”

I frown. “I’m not rich.”

“You sure about that? Because I saw you win a big pile of money not twenty-four hours ago.”

“Yeah, and that’s all I’ve got. I don’t have stocks, don’t have retirement, don’t have savings. I’ve got a mortgage’s worth of student loan. I’m not rich, believe me. Lucky, maybe, but not rich.”

The woman crosses her arms, pouts. “You’re kind of a downer, you know that?”

I shrug. “Kind of, yeah. Sorry.” I regret this the instant it leaves my mouth. It’s such a downer thing to say. This is seriously some high school bullshit. A decade and change out, and I’m still fundamentally the same person. It’s funny and sad and affirming and pathetic all at once.

The sensation only lasts a few seconds, passing impossibly fast even for one of the foul moods that hits me and disappears like a summer storm. As it leaves, my mouth twists into a the beginnings of a frown. Why the Hell should I feel bad that this random woman thinks I’m a downer? Why should my finances weigh on me in this moment? The sun is bright above me and warm on my skin, my friends are nearby, and I have an obscene amount of rum within arm’s reach. There isn’t another thing in the world I could possibly want right now. And if I were thinking about the future, which as a general rule I try not to do (not when obsessing over the past is so much more fun,) I could use some of that pile of money to change my situation: buy those stocks, start that retirement, build that savings, do something about that debt. I probably had enough cash to be sensible and do all of those things and still get unreasonably drunk, unreasonably high, still indulge every whim, every vice while I was in the Meadows.

No, I wasn’t rich, but I was really fucking lucky, and I’d rather be lucky any day of the week.

Wait, I wasn’t lucky at all. I was on a mind-altering drug that had changed my perception of time and that I’d used to know exactly what bets to place while gambling.

Well, at least I was smart enough to do that.

Wait, I’d scored the drug so I could look into my past and figure out what I had done to earn the ire of the demoness that had been hunting me for the better part of a year. But instead of doing that, I’d blacked out and almost pissed away not just my own money but my friends’ too.

Well, I was an idiot, but at least I was rich.

Word Count: 41,906. Post-mortem tomorrow.

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