Karma Vigilantes Part II

 

I didn’t give him much time to really reply. I had him by the ear and was leading him out of the house.

By the time we’d gotten to the front door where the bouncers stood, I’d had my story planned.  “It’s ok boys, he likes it rough. He told me. He also offered me an extra five grand if we can do it at his place. I feel safe though. We’ll just take his car.”

I looked at James with a glare. He caught my drift, still holding his bleeding nose, and nodded at them.  They looked at James, then at me. I gave a confident smug and an eyebrow raise.

One of him held his finger up and talked to the other for a moment. After about thirty seconds of chatting it over, he stepped away, pulling out a cell phone. The conversation looked like it took about four spoken words. He nodded and hung up. He walked back over to us.

“She says it’s good. She takes an extra fifteen percent of this one, and I go with you, just to make sure.”

James and I looked at each other. We knew there wasn’t a much easier way out of this one, and we knew between the two of us, we could ditch this guy if we needed to.

The three of us made our way out to Betty. The large black man stepped into a sleek black Mercedes. James pulled Betty’s keys out of his vest pocket. I snatched them from his hand and punched him in the face again. He cried out. “Smile, you fucking asshole, and act like you like it.”

James turned and looked at the Mercedes with a bloody face, giving a tearful, yet enthusiastic thumbs-up to the bouncer.

We got into Betty and I fired up her engine. The relief hit me like sanctuary, and tears filled my eyes. I closed my eyes and listened to her purr. James sniffed in pain in the passenger seat.  I shifted into reverse, and in the act of looking behind me, I smoothly, yet tactfully managed to throw a good elbow shot into James’s face again before backing out and speeding down the hill back toward the strip.

We didn’t say a word the entire way back to the hotel.  With the Mercedes hot on our heels, I turned the stereo up, letting my music wrap it’s arms around me. James used one of his t shirts to cradle his face on the way back, keeping his head back to stop the nose bleed.

When we got back to the hotel, James and I pulled into the underground parking garage, using my suite key as entrance. The Mercedes pulled in directly behind us. I saw a black hand stick out the window using another card that gave equal access. My hopes of ditching this guy again were dashed.

We parked and I got out of the car. I walked around to the passenger side and opened the door. James looked up at me, his sorry eyes begging for mercy.

“Oh no. We’re not done yet, motherfucker.”

I watched the Mercedes park and gauged how much time I had before the bouncer heard my words.

“You fucking left me. You left me in Los Angeles. Alone. With nothing. And you took my car!” I slapped him again across the face, and followed it up with a stiletto heel stomp on his foot, and repeated the slap.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’M SORRY! OUCH! Fuck Sophie, I’m fucking sorry!”

I heard the door slam shut on the Mercedes, followed by an alarm beep.

“Look like you like it, ass whipe.”

James turned his moan into one that somewhat resembled ecstasy.

“I’m the boss, bitch!” I said, dragging him by his ear to the elevator. I looked back at the bouncer and winked. He smiled and shook his head, following us into the elevator.

When we reached our floor, I heard the craziness in our room from down the hall. I knew James and I would get the privacy we needed.

I opened the door to our suite to blasting music and Darcy riding Cia around rodeo style. She hopped off Cia and ran to greet us.

“Sophie! Heeeey, everyone! Sophie’s here! Oooohhh!” Darcy sized up James, but quickly looked past him to the towering black, tux clad Adonis behind us.

“My God… She has come bearing gifts…”

Darcy’s eyes dialated, her lower lip wobbled as she took in the bouncer from head to toe.

I smiled at the bouncer before dragging James into the private lounge of the suite. I caught a glimpse of Darcy putting a cowboy hat on her head and jumping on the bouncer before closing the frosted glass french doors on the party in the main living room.

James had some explaining to do.

 

 

and now I’m downstairs. Just thought I’d catch you all up on what has gone down. I’ve got a dozen donuts and some coffee. I’m heading back up in a minute. From the looks of things, everyone got along well with Darrel the bouncer.  I should probably get back before they wake up. I think I’m the only one that’s not going to be hurting this morning.

 

 

::::Sophie

Karma Vigilantes

it’s been a while since I could update.   If anyone’s out there in the void, I’m sorry about that.

SORRY VOID.

Somehow I ended up here. In the lobby of a hotel somewhere in Vegas.  I don’t even know the place of where I’m at.   Of course when you’re completely on the run from your life, you tend to lose track of details.

The important details now are as follows:

Last night: Darcy happened.  Yes. Darcy happened all over the damn place.  Immediately upon rolling into town, she hit up the first slots she found, and hit a jackpot.  An eight hundred dollar jackpot.  What did this mean?  It meant putting us all up on a suite, Darcy acting like a kid in a candy store at the liquor mart, and a hundred dollars in my hand to get some new clothes.  “Seriously. You look like shit, Soph.  This isn’t for you, I just don’t want to be seen with you like that anymore. It’s really depressing.”

Shopping in a hotel gift store in Vegas, however, never tends to yield any good results. Nevertheless, I managed to shed the Valentino rags off myself and get into a new black number that fit right, held my boobs up, and didn’t smell like sand, sweat, and regret. I also used the extra cash to hit up the salon. I figured after a month of looking and smelling like shit, and since I didn’t actually use my own credit cards, I was allowed a refresher.  three hours later, with fresh highlights and professional make up, I stepped into the Vegas night as a new woman. I was prepared for the things that might happen to me as I once again donned a black dress. (including being mistaken as an escort.)

Armed with a hotel key of my own, and determination to find Betty, I was unstoppable.   James told me to meet him here. I was on a mission to find the little shit who left me stranded in LA….

First visit: Roulette table at Caesar’s.  Found a good looking guy in a suit with beautiful women standing next to him.  Walking up I gingerly moved them aside and whispered in his ear.  He turned to me and sized me up. Deciding I was legitimate, he leaned over and whispered an address into my ear. I nodded and walked straight out with renewed determination.   Catching a glance of myself in the large wall mirrors as I headed out of the casino, reality managed to catch up to me for just a second. It was long enough to stop me in my tracks.

I stood looking at myself, putting together the adventure I’d gone on, mentally comparing the life I left behind a couple months ago to the person I had become in this amount of time. I realized for the first time in my life, my future was not planned out beyond the next few hours. I didn’t worry about what anyone else in my life thought of me. I had no cares as to my reputation or what consequences my actions might yield.  I realized, I only cared about those who cared about me, who didn’t judge me but supported me, even if it meant telling me I looked like shit. My entire list of priorities was centered around getting my car back and continuing on a journey with a pack of hopeless Karma Vigilantes.  Moments flashed through my head illustrating things like my college graduation…force smiles in a cap and gown and a disgusting realization I would be paying back student loans I didn’t want in the first place for a degree I didn’t want in the first place for a job I never wanted in the first place for a life I didn’t want in the first place. All for people who thought it was the best for me. All for people who loved me so hard, they truly believed I would thank them for my misery one day.

I’d spent enough time on that thought and moved on. Out the doors in to the hot Vegas night, haling a cab.  I stated the address to the driver before I forgot it. He looked at me in his mirror and nodded.

The ride lasted longer than I thought it would. We left the strip and drove out to the houses. One nice house after another, smooth, blocky, swanky glass and custom lighting. We pulled up to the driveway. The driver smiled at me.

“How much?” I asked, reaching for the cash tucked into my bra. “I’ll just add it to the account,” he said.

“ok…” I said. I stepped out of the car and straightened my dress. I looked around and saw the strip twinkling at me from below. The house was on the ridge looking out, cars lining the driveway.   My eyes stopped at the freshly waxed, shiny, newly restored ’94 Porsche. Betty smiled back at me.   I walked over to her and looked inside, spotting the Betty Boop air freshener.  It looked like we both got new dresses.

Bass beat boomed from the inside of the house. Most likely a party.

I walked through the front door, met by two bouncers. Large black men in well fitted black suits stopped me. They looked me over and I returned a glance that said “I pay your salary.” They nodded and let me by.

Instantly, I was surrounded by women my age. Gorgeous, classic, rich. They laughed, held their delicate cocktails and smiled energetically. They moved their eyes slowly, showcasing their lashes and full lips. They stood delicately, as if made of glass. They floated from one conversation to another. There were about four women to every tuxedo clad man.    I knew which one I was looking for.

I made my way to the back yard. the pool glowed, making everyone seem modern and magical.  I followed the cigar smoke to the pool house. The women gathered around him, entranced by the story he was telling. He boastfully regaled them with his heroic tale of saving a poor girl he’d met in New Orleans from a car jacker.

“That’s not quite the way I remember it.”  I made my way through the designer gowns and stood in front of him. I crossed my arms as I looked down at him, donning a fresh Hugo Boss tux, shiny shoes, looking comfortable and a bit tipsy in a poolside lounger. As I emerged from the crowd, his face softened in relief and recognition.

He rose, the women parting, looking at me in awe, as if seeing a love story unfold.

He took a step toward me. I looked up at him, realizing I’d missed that face of his. I wanted to touch his hair now that I knew it was clean.  I’d forgotten how tall he was and that he loomed over me. I’d also forgotten how good he looked in a clean tux.   He reached out, brushing the strands of hair off my forehead that had grown damp with the light sweat from the hot Nevada night air.

“Hello Moneypenny,” he softly said, looking into my eyes, leaning in for a kiss.

“Hello James,” I replied, meeting his face with my fist.

:::Sophie

karen \\ if there’s a rocket tie me to it

I came here to run away. I was refugee, just like the other ninety percent of Las Vegas tourists. I was fleeing the scenes of the crimes I’d committed against myself and those against any sense of decency I’d ever had. I was only looking for peace.

And instead I found him. He texted me this time. The first time he’d ever texted me.

We were drinking in the hotel room, taking whiskey shots. We’d given Sophie some money for a new outfit, and Valencia — Cia, as she liked to be called, was clutching a drink in one hand and her dog in the other. Darcy, of course, played bartender, pouring more than we asked for. “Drink your water, children, it’s good for you!” she kept saying.

My phone vibrated. I ignored it for over an hour, figuring it was only the ex, or the fling, or the boss. Only when I took it out to check the time later did I see his name, Ryan, on the screen.

hey sarah palin, you in portland next weekend?

Terrible nickname aside, I was pleasantly taken aback.

maybe. i’ve taken a detour and ended a bit south of the norm. i’ll let you know?

The words were drunkenly slurred onto the screen. Inside, there was a part of me that was beaming. I tried not to let it show.

By the time Darcy was dancing around the room in her underwear, I’d received another text.

roger that. i’m in vegas for the weekend. a buddy’s bachelor party. let me know your plans. missing that birthmark on your hip.

I laughed out loud. I pretended that I´d just taken a photo of Darcy. The rest of them were so drunk they hardly realized it.

We decided to meet up. There was a club off the strip, I guided the girls there. Inside, the music was blaring, the girls started dancing, and I started looking.

And now I’m here. It’s been well over 27 minutes since we had sex, and he still hasn’t asked me to leave.

Darcy’s phone call this morning wasn’t unexpected. I remembered programming the alarm into her phone, and I remembered telling her that I was leaving. She’d been kissing a large, really attractive black guy, so she’d given me the brush off, “Yeah, yeah, got it. Get it, girl.”

I have my head on his chest. His fingers stroke my hip, right where my birthmark is.

“Your friends?” he asks, sleep in his voice. I look up. His eyes are still closed.

“Yeah.”

“You gotta leave?”

“Sounds that way. Dunno where to meet them, though. Phone died.”

“Better stay a bit then.”

I’m happy to, I think to myself. I push myself up to look at him, smiling through my pieces of hair in my eyes. I kiss him, then pull away.”

“Ryan?” I look at him quizzically.

He opens his eyes, a small smile playing in the corner of his mouth. “Karen?”

“What do you do?”

jack // if you liked it then you should’ve…

Jack stood alone in his living room, transfixed on the small bauble sitting on the kitchen counter.  Slowly, he began walking towards it, filling the room with the soft cacophony of the dirty, waxen soles of his feet as they stuck and peeled on the hardwood floors with every shaky but deliberate step.

Gradually, the mystery object came into focus.  It was round.  Its candy apple red exterior popped bright against the dull emerald faux-marble countertop.  But it wasn’t until he hovered over it that he realized it was a prize egg from one of those coin-operated glass machines still seen gracing the entryways and exits of supermarkets and drugstores; those machines that have the audacity to trade three Chiclets for a quarter.

He cracked it open to reveal a poorly folded Post-It note.

You’re sweet, but we both know why I can’t keep this, it read.

It was signed, “N”.  Just “N”, with a small consolation heart punctuating the initial.

Jack peered into the opened prize egg, then shook a plastic ring out of it.  The small, child-sized band was coated in a clumsy “metallic” finish, and instead of being set with any kind of stone, there was a glossy yellow happy face roughly the size of an M&M pressed into it.

As he reread the Post-It he tried idly to put the ring on but found he could only get it onto his pinky, and even then it was stopped abruptly by the bulge of his top knuckle.  He held his hand at arms’ length, inspecting the ring’s vapid happy face as one might admire the luster of a diamond.  Still finding nothing remarkable about it, he yanked it from his finger and studied it closely for a moment before allowing it to tumble unceremoniously onto the countertop.

“No, I don’t know why you can’t keep this useless piece of plastic,” Jack said aloud, hoping someone would miraculously respond.

He processed every possible reason why she wouldn’t take the stupid toy ring.  Did she have a boyfriend?  Did she wake up in bed with Jack and decide that she had made a huge mistake?  Was she just slumming it for the night and leaving because he was unemployed and broke?

Jack crumpled up the note, jammed it inside the band of the ring, stuffed the whole mess back into the egg, and looked defiantly out of the bay window of the living room at the chilly February mess outside.

“I will be goddamned if I don’t figure out what the hell this all means,” he asserted to himself, the words hissing with forced heroism as they passed between his whiskey lips.  “It’s not even about pretty brunettes anymore; this is about pride and self-respect!  No girl skips out on a one night stand with Jack Sitwell before Jack does!”

He nodded in self-satisfaction at the tone and tenacity of his locker room pep talk and went straight for the shower, undressing as he went, leaving lumps of Hanes 100% Cotton in his wake.

jack // morning in america

Late morning sun poured in between old brittle blinds, washing Jack’s vision with the languid halogen orange of bright light being filtered through closed eyelids, causing him to wake.  He let out an exhausted groan, sharing the acrid stench of stale whiskey and flat Coke with the world.

“You smell like a fucking homeless person,” a voice scolded from a nearby office chair.

“Shut up, Cliff.  Just shut up,” Jack shot back.  He tried coming up with a better response, but his thoughts sloshed carelessly around his brain, a vat of concrete refusing to set.  Any words he could grasp in the harsh light of 11:36AM Saturday tumbled grossly out of his mouth.  “What happened?”

“Oh, you mean you don’t remember grabbing Melanie’s breasts with both hands and yelling ‘HONK! HONK!’ as you squeezed them?”

Jack shot upright in bed.  “Oh.  My god.  Cliff, I’m so sorry.  You know I would never actually—”

Jack’s roommate began to chuckle.

“You’re a dick, you know that?” Jack said as he laid back down.

“I’m sorry Jack, I couldn’t resist.  You didn’t actually sexually harass my girlfriend.”

“So what did I do?”

“You really don’t remember?”  Jack shook his head with an awkward, loopy grace.  “When does everything start to get fuzzy for you?  After Lizzie’s party maybe?”

“We went to Lizzie’s party?”

“Oh Christ, so you don’t even remember leaving the apartment.”  He stopped to think for a second.  “Yeah, we went to Lizzie’s.  You were acting like an asshole, but I didn’t think it was anything above and beyond your normal levels of asshole.  Then after…I don’t know, maybe forty minutes or so, we lost track of you.”

“You didn’t think to come find me or anything?”

Cliff’s amused grin faded.  “You’re twenty-four years old, Jack, and this wasn’t the first time you’d pulled a Houdini at a party,” he snorted.

“So that makes it okay to—?

“Listen, I have go into the office today to finish up some paperwork.  I figured you’d be fine.  I don’t have time to explain to you all the reasons why I should not have to take care of my drunken man-child roommate when we’re out in public together,” he leveled as he headed out into the apartment hallway.  “And considering you came thundering home at 3:30 in the morning with a girl, you did just fine for yourself.”

Jack clambered to his feet and ran after his roommate.  “Wait, a girl?  I didn’t sleep with Tanya again, did I?” he whimpered, priming himself for the shame he would feel if he had slept with his sister’s less-than-attractive friend for the fourth or fifth time.

Cliff didn’t bother looking up from tying his shoes.  “No.  I saw her this morning as she was leaving.  Not bad actually.  Not my type, but I can see why she’d be yours.”

“What did she look like?”

“Uh…mid-twenties, dark hair, slightly tanned skin.  She was wearing some kind of like…Sergeant Pepper’s jacket or something.  I don’t know, I didn’t get a good look at her.”

“Did she say anything?”

“Not really, but she left something on the kitchen counter for you.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know I didn’t look at it.  You share a room with my home office because you can’t make the full rent.  That’s not enough for me to start giving a shit about your one-night-stands.”

Jack gazed over Cliff’s shoulder into the kitchen, trying to find the object in question, and then looked back at Cliff.  “Why you being so…like…this today?”

“I’m probably just cranky that I have to go down to the office in person today.  Or maybe I’m pissed off that I’m footing three quarters of the rent because my best friend slash roommate hasn’t felt like getting a job in the three months since the golf course he works at closed for the season, but he still has some cash to get obliterated drunk and keep me up all night as he humps random women a couple rooms away.”  He paused in the threshold to their apartment.  “It’s one of the two,” he stated as he closed the front door behind him.

Darcy // What the hell happens in Vegas.

I awake to the door to our door slamming shut. I jerk forward slightly, my eyes instantly pinched shut to defend against the light of morning.

Lord. God damn mother fucking lord, my brain is exploding out of my skull. I turn to my side, pulling my knees close to my chest. Which is bare. Fantastic.

I open one eye, wait for it to focus. An impossibly dark shoulder is all I see.

Squeezing my eye shut again, I search for some memory of this shoulder, or, better yet, the person to whom it’s likely attached.

Fucking Las Vegas. We were at a club. Me, Karen, Sophia, Val — what the fuck was her name? Valerie? Val — whatever, that’ll come back to me. We were at a club, dancing. Drinking. No shoulders from what I can remember, though.

Maybe seeing more will help. I brace myself. Open both eyes, and push myself up to look at his face. Wow, good looking. Did good for yourself this time, Darcy. But who the fuck is he?

I push myself up to lean against the bed, which is when I realize that this isn’t actually our room. Mystery man’s sporting a bit of morning wood. That’s an understatement, I think, cocking my head to the side. Sure wish I remember that.

Slowly, I lean over the bed, looking for my inevitably discarded dress. I see a hint of the thin, red, slinky cotton dress near the foot of the bed between a spilled bottle of champagne and a broken champagne flute. I slip out of bed, clumsily kicking my phone from the folds of the sheets.

I pull my dress on. It’s sticky with champagne, but the fabric covering my tits feels like a victory for the morning. Sometimes not being naked is a pretty big victory in itself.

I steady myself on the dresser while I pick up my phone. Two missed alarms. Karen, it read.

Oh fuck.

We’d had this thing in college. If I left a party with some guy, I’d program an alarm into her phone. If I wasn’t home by the time it went off, she was supposed to call and make sure I got home alright.

Damn, that had to have been annoying for her, I think now. Seemed reasonable at the time, I suppose.

I see my heels and purse by the door. I’m not out the door fast enough.

I’m on the same floor, at least. I follow the numbers to our room, find the door wide open.

Val’s standing in the door frame, her hand over her mouth.

“What the fuck, V?” I feel like that’s a good enough substitute for her name.

She whirls around, her face filled with shock. “There’s — that guy! And so much blood!”

I raise my eyesbrows at her. “I know you don’t know me very well, V, but practical jokes will get you killed when I’m hungover like this.”

She just steps aside and points. There is definitely a guy in one of the beds. And yes, there is definitely dried blood on the pillow around him.

But he doesn’t exactly look like a stiff or anything. Pinkish skin. His chest is moving up and down lightly. His face is turned in the other direction.

I roll my eyes at V, then saunter into the room and around the bed. The guy is definitely alive. And cute. Tall, dark hair. Pretty sharp features, at least from what I can tell by what’s not covered in blood. Looks like someone got into a fight last night — his nose is swollen and is likely the source of the blood around him.

“He’s fine, V,” I say in a loud, fairly patronizing manner. I meant to make her feel a little silly, but only succeeded in exacerbating my headache. V just exhales in relief, then creeps closer.

“Who is he?” she whispers.

I shrug my shoulders. “Probably belongs to Karen or Sophie. You haven’t seen them, have you?” I poke the guy. He doesn’t respond.

“No, I, uh…” she stammers and blushes. “Well, I kind of slept with you last night. So I just got back in here.”

I look back up at her. “You sure about that?”

She gives a nervous laugh. “Yeah. I mean, I woke up next to you. I was dressed and everything, so it’s not like…you know.”

I poke the guy again, harder this time. He turns his head, utters a little cry of pain. I don’t blame him. On closer examination, his nose looks pretty gnarley.

“Well, that’s cool. I’m assuming you don’t remember where Karen or Sophie ran off to?”

She shakes her head, while bloody guy mutters, “Sophie…”

“Hey, buddy.” I poke him again. “You okay?”

He opens one eye. Sees me, which is no doubt an unpleasant thing to wake up to at the moment. “You know Sophie?”

He nods. “Where the fuck is she?” He tried to sit up, stops quickly as his face scrunches in pain.

“Honestly, we were hoping you could tell us,” I say to him. “V, you wanna get a rag and some ice for his face here?” She nods quickly, grabbing the ice bucket and running into the hall. I get a towel wet and start wiping the blood off of his face.

“So who are you, buddy? What’re you doing in our room?”

“I’m James. I’m a friend of Sophie’s. At least, I thought I was. She brought me here last night. I dunno why she’d leave me here, though.”

“Back!” V held the ice in her hands triumphantly.

“Awesome, you ice James’s busted face here, I’m going to find out what the hell happened to our dear friends last night.”

I leave James in the care of V, pull out my cigarettes and head to the balcony. Sweet view, I think as I pull the door shut behind me. I hardly remember seeing it last night.

I dial Karen. No answer. I dial again. No answer. “Fucking Karen,” I mutter. As I say it I’m struck with how many times she’s said the same thing about me for the exact same reason in college. Except, to be fair, this wasn’t our little college town. This was Vegas.

I dialed one last time.

“Hello?” She sounded strangled and hoarse on the other end.

“Kare bare-ass. Where you at?” I ask in relief as I lean over railing.

“Mmmmm,” she groans. I hear shuffling. “I dunno. With Ryan.”

“Ryan? Like dude-you’re-banging-from-Portland Ryan? How the hell did that happen?”

“Long story.”

I wait for her to elaborate. She doesn’t. “K, well that’s swell. Where can we pick you up? You with Sophie?”

“Mmmm. Sophie. No. I can meet you in an hour. At –”

“Hello? Karen?” I look at my phone. Call’s ended. I dial. Straight to voicemail.

Her phone’s dead. That’s just perfect.

somehow to keep it going.

The sheets were crumpled around his body, the space around him thrashed out in sleepless frustration. He lay on his back, his eyes wide open, his brain simultaneously willing itself to sleep and running off with thoughts he couldn’t control.

He was thinking back to three years ago; when Oro was spoken of in present tense instead of past, when he never knew a hollow feeling, and when nobody had ever looked at him with pity in their eyes. Three years ago, when he could look at Achlys without feeling as though the truth would suffocate him. Three years and he was still living a lie, never daring to hint at it and keeping the one person he needed to tell the most, in the dark. It was almost too much to bear.

He groaned as he dragged himself out of bed; his body protesting, clamouring for the comfort of sleep.

“Perhaps a walk to clear my head” he muttered, dragging on his jeans.

It had been snowing steadily for hours. She was curled up in bed, cosy between the warmth of her blankets and the glow of her bedroom lamps. She loved nights like these: the snow made everything more precious, the silence more pronounced, and as though you were the only person awake in the whole world. The snow made you believe you could whisper and the Earth would whisper back a secret.

She sipped at her hot chocolate, her mind consumed by the book she was reading. She penciled notes in the margin, her eyebrow furrowed as she vacillated over word choice.

She was just about to scribble a note to herself when she heard the first “Ping!” bounce off her window.

It sounded like the Earth had come knocking.

He’d walked out of his house without a destination in mind. He’d wanted to walk until his body out-exhausted his mind, until sleep was not something his mind could fight against, until all he could do was close his eyes and sleep a dreamless sleep.

His feet walked a familiar path before his brain understood where they were taking him. He scrambled over a hedge, a branch scratching his cheek, the cold stinging. He stood beneath Achlys’ lit window, staring up, knowing she was awake- reading, probably.

And he knew what he was about to do almost as soon as he bent down to pick up a tiny pebble and aim it at her window.

“Ping!”

The pebble flew off the window, the sound echoing in the eerie quiet of the night. An owl hooted a few trees over. The moon peeked out.

He launched another pebble.

Achlys padded over to the window, her glasses slipping down her nose and her toes curling in the cold.

She tried not to smile at him waving up at her.

He waved at her face, blurred by the window. He didn’t understand this reaction he’d suddenly developed every time he saw her. A split-second of nervousness before he dismissed it with a rationalised, “But it’s Achlys!”.

He’d seen her ready for bed a thousand times before. Her hair a messy knot at the top of her head that was always threatening to tumble down; her glasses slipping down her nose; toothpaste on her t-shirt collar; and her feet bare, as always. She always danced in and out of the bathroom, a muffled “Bollocks!” as her feet hit the freezing tiles, the toothbrush in one corner of her mouth.

So he didn’t understand why his stomach dropped when she open her window and leaned out, her hair finally collapsing in the wind, and beckoned him to climb in through her bedroom window.

Her first thought was that he smelt of night air and clove cigarettes: cold and warm all at once. His hair was unkempt and ruffled, as though he’d run his hands through it all night before the wind had gotten to it. His eyes were hollow, pain peeking out behind his usual mask of semi-amusement.

“You look like shit.” she told him.

He smiled.

His stomach stopped falling. His panic lifted.

“I don’t know if this book is fiction or if it’s real. I mean, I don’t even have the whole manuscript- I only get chapters as they’re written and it’s all so lifelike! I.. I..I don’t know, I feel as though this Sophie person is real. As though I should go meet her.” She ended on a sigh, crumpling onto the bed, her head unconsciously finding his shoulder for a useful pillow.

“Well, why don’t you speak with Charles and see if he can get you in touch with the writer? He must know who it is, right?”

“Mm, I suppose. But, what if he reckons I’m overstepping my bounds? I .. I don’t want him to think I’m getting to big for my boots- I just think she’s fascinating. I want to understand her, see why I relate so much…”

“I don’t think he’ll see it that way at all. You’re overthinking it. Just ask him, you’ll know soon enough.”

She nodded, still looking slightly unconvinced. She looked up at him, her head on his shoulder; his arm cradling her close.

“You look like shit. You haven’t been sleeping too well, have you?”

He glanced down at her face, smiled a tired smile and leaned down to kiss the tip of her nose.

She didn’t know what was bothering him, what troubled him so much that he couldn’t sleep. Andrei had always been able to sleep. Anywhere, at any time. Sleep had always been on his side- he’d never let unhappiness, worry or a guilty conscience interfere with sleep, and to see him now- his eyes lacklustre and troubled; his normally harmless sarcasm giving way to barely concealed impatience… Achlys worried.

Her eyes fluttered shut as he leaned down and kissed her nose.She hugged him a little closer.

He sighed, his body relaxing; no longer tightly held together.

She reached up and placed her hand over his eyes.

“Get some sleep, pond-muck.”