The Beast, Pt. 53 (Chapter 16e)

Alright. Time to finish this monstrosity. Might take a month, might take the time between now and November, but I’m sick of staring at this thing like it’s my Everest and then not climbing it.

The story picks up exactly where it left off back in February.

Notlil laughs. It sounds genuine. She’s amused, at the very least. “Ooh. Does that make me special?”

“Either that or else I just randomly felt like putting in the effort. Maybe I would have done it with anyone. You could be a potted plant and I’d be trying to charm you.”

“What, are you so starved for affection that you’d chat up anyone who acknowledged you?”

“Hardly.”

“Then are you some kind of machine that you can’t control when you’re a decent person and when you’re a dick?”

I smirk. “No, I can control it.”

She sips her champagne, smiles behind the glass. “You’re good at control, then?”

I close my eyes, give an exaggerated good-natured shrug. “Being in control without being controlling. It’s a skill. Some people I appreciate.” I really am enjoying myself. There’s a feeling inside me, like I’ve missed this banter. I don’t know why. I banter and bullshit with my buddies all the time.

She sets down her champagne flute and leans in close, so close she fills my vision, so close she’s my world. Her eyes lock onto mine and she stares me down, her eyes alternately blue and green in the dim light of the limousine. I can smell her perfume, even though I can’t put a name to the scent. I can see down her shirt. I can almost the champagne on her breath.

I am scared. I am hard. I am utterly detached, outside of myself, watching, waiting to see what I do next. Maybe I’ll kiss her lips. Maybe she’ll run her tongue down my cheek. Maybe she’ll spit in my face. The possibilities are endless, each as interesting as the last.

I feel her hair brush against my cheek. Her breath, warm and wet is on my ear. I could count the freckles on the nape of her neck, were I so inclined. Her voice is a whisper but it hits me like a sledgehammer, like some kind of ancient word of power, like she’s just spoken my true name and now I am powerless.

“Just because you pretend you don’t care doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.”

I jump back in my seat, eyes wide with terror, breath stuck in my throat. “What?” I croak. “What did you say?” I’m trying to pull away from her, but she’s already back in her seat, like she was never leaning over at all. The look on her face is confusion and disbelief and concern, and damnit, how did she get all the way back over there so fast? What kind of game is she playing at, whispering cryptic things in my ear and using dark magic to teleport back across the limousine and turning her eyes from blue or green to a dark brown? I don’t appreciate when my perception of reality is messed with by external forces. It’s downright rude is what it is.

The anger must be showing on my face because her expression finally settles on concern. “Hey, are you okay? You look a little out of it, or something.”

“Yeah. I’m fine. I’m fine.”

Googe takes a deep breath and exhales, an athlete pumping himself up for the performance of his life. “Don’t worry, guys. I’ve got this.” He sits up and moves over to me, leaving his redheaded companion blinking in surprise, and he takes another deep breath and puts a hand on my shoulder. He smiles, his face warm and reassuring. “Hey, buddy. Hey. Buddy. Buddy, hey.”

“Jesus Christ, what?”

“Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay. Buddy, listen. Listen, buddy.”

“Oh, my God, what?”

He brings a finger to his lips, purses them, taps the finger against them. “Buddy. You listening?”

I roll my eyes. Nod.

“Good. Great. Listen, buddy.” Another deep breath. The other hand on my other shoulder. He stares deep into my eyes and smiles. “Do not fuck this up for us.”

The limousine erupts into laughter. The girls are all laughing, but Erb and Monk are falling out of their seats, rapidly progressing from deep belly laughs to choked giggles to their chests rising and falling near silently from exertion. I can feel my face blushing, and more than anything, I’m irritated that I’m showing that Googe got to me. “Fuck you, Judas!”

More laughter still. “Bro. Buddy. Buddybro. Be cool. Comparing me to Judas Iscariot is not being cool.”

My mouth opens to compare Googe to other hated historical figures, but the limousine comes to a sudden stop before an undoubtedly blistering insult can come out. Better to just roll my eyes, laugh it off, and move on. Be the bigger man. So I do just that. “Yeah, alright. You got me. I’ll be cool.” I pantomime dusting myself off, turn away from the others, and step out of the limousine. The driver is standing there, one hand on the door, and a surprised look on his face.

Surprise! I’m new money. I open my own doors. I’m temporary money. How I should and shouldn’t conduct myself never enters into the equation. I’m no money, plaything of fate and luck, and I want to see the world. Literally. From a thousand miles away.

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