Still with me?
The phantasmal child did not think in the same way as any human might. Maybe there had been words before steel-crunch-screaming-tires, but if there were, those had been wiped and replaced by ideas and pictures.
Kind-eyes-craggy-face had nearly come close enough to the rage she craved, but not quite. She could have fed off his simple anger, but kind-eyes-craggy-face was better than just a quick snack. He was a table-spread-turkey-happiness. If she was patient and teased it out of him, she could feast for days off him.
How or why she’d attached herself to kind-eyes-craggy-face or scars-strong-happy-heart, she didn’t really know or understand. Memories for her were also an abstract idea – she mostly thought only of the now and the future, of need-guilt-hunger-anger. If there was a wrongness to her insatiable hunger, she didn’t recognize it as such because she simply did not know any better. That part of her mind was gone, or at the very least, in retrograde. In the back of it all there was pain-pain-pain-pain and wrong-man-wrong-man, but lighting on those thoughts and ideas more than a few moments at a time made her sick.
Her latest meal twitched in the morning hours, the words that had fallen out of his mouth now nothing more than a mumble. She did not taste his emotions, not as such – there was no pleasure derived from her food, just satiation. But when she fed on ugly-bad-souls, she felt less guilt. The glass shards of what remained of her mind crunched underfoot when she thought about feasting on kind-eyes-craggy face. Was he bad too? She could feel the darkness in him and wanted to feast on it. That was what mattered.
* * *
The light confused her at first. Thoughts slowly flickered through Brianna’s head like errant flies being lit up by a bug zapper. It was too bright. She was too hot. Her head ached and her mouth felt like grease left to congeal in a pan overnight.
Beside her, Garrett lay on his stomach, head turned away from the sunlight flitting through the window, the sheets bunched underneath him. She’d managed to slip under them after their damn-near all-night play, but he’d passed out on top of the sheets like he’d been slamming whiskey.
Brianna swung her legs over the edge of the bed, trying to piece it all together. They’d both been so on edge last night, and then… The thoughts of what came after made her shiver. Her sex actually hurt and she gingerly padded to the bathroom to check herself. She’d been sore before with Garrett, sure, even despite his relative small size (or so he said – she liked him just perfectly, especially since he made it up in other ways). But this was like bad rug burn combined with about a half dozen muscle pulls.
Whatever Garrett had been coming down with, she could feel it too. Her forehead and cheeks burned with a heat that hadn’t come from the sun. Sexy fun time fever, she thought to herself, less amused than confused. They’d attacked each other, and that man on the dance floor. He’d been a greasy bastard, to be sure, but she’d seen that look in Garrett’s eyes before and knew it had been in her own eyes too. They wanted to destroy that man – not slug him once or twice for being a creeper, but break him thoroughly.
She started the shower before sitting on the pot. Beside her was Garrett’s cell phone. She picked it up, punched the power button, and glanced at the time. “Shit,” she muttered. Nearly two in the afternoon. There went her golf plans for the morning.
In the shower, as she built up a thick lather, the door hinges squeaked ever so slightly. She tensed, not sure why, and waited for Garrett to say something as her fingers worked through her hair. There was a deep breath, then a long, pensive whoosh of air. Still, he said nothing. Didn’t even draw back the curtain.
“Not gonna say anything?” Brianna said. “Fine. I’ll start.” She jerked back the curtain, soapy foam running down her face. “If you ever don’t want to do something, don’t be a melodramatic dick and just say something. Yeah, I wanted to go dancing, but if you’re not up for it, you’re not up for it.”
Her eyes were squinted shut against the shampoo so she didn’t see him lean against the bathroom counter bare-assed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even know I was feeling sick until we got there.”
“You were moody the whole drive over.”
“I… yeah.” He sighed. “Look, I love dancing with you. I don’t have any excuse. I guess I was just in a mood and I took it out on you. I’m sorry.”
She jerked the curtain back in place and let the water rain back over her, sniffling. “I hate fighting with you. Hate it. I didn’t want to do it on this trip.”
“Is that what we’re doing? Fighting?”
“It’s what we do every time you think you can’t talk to me. Every time you go quiet makes us both miserable.”
“Oh come on,” he groused. “I wasn’t the only pissy one of the two of us.”
She snapped the curtain back open again. “Really? You’re gonna say that to me right now? Really? Why the unholy shit turds do you think I was pissy last night?”
She threw the shampoo bottle at him. Not hard, just lobbed it. He caught it. She expected more of an argument. More of a fight. Instead, he glanced between the bottle and her, sighed, and set it back on the bathtub’s ledge before he started to strip. “If you think you’re getting any today,” she warned, “you’re gonna be sorely disappointed.”
“Just move over and let me get clean before we run out of hot water,” he said.
She did, and he joined her. This wasn’t like their shower at home, with its multiple jets and the bench seat. There was no comfortable way for the both of them to take a shower together, and finally she stepped back out, muttering under her breath, the soap not quite washed off her completely. But in the mirror, she saw him turn, and realized what she’d done to him the night before. “Oh my God, Garrett, your back, your neck.”
He craned his head and looked at himself in the mirror. “Oh wow, you worked me over pretty good.”
She had. Her fingernails had sliced long, angry red crisscrossing grooves all over his back. There weren’t just bite marks on his shoulder, either, but actual deep gouges to his flesh where her teeth had sunk into him. Her tears formed immediately and she whirled so fast she nearly slipped. He yanked the shower’s knobs to the off position and stepped out carefully, taking her in his arms as soon as their footing was more secure. She kissed the wound and cried and cried.
As he guided her back to bed, she blubbered how sorry she was, and he said it right back each time. They fell together on top of the sheets, and he stroked the wet length of her hair, kissing every inch of her face slowly and softly. They didn’t make love, but she thought it was nearly so sweet as if they had and soon her tears eased.
Brianna tended to the bite mark from their first aid kit. He hissed when she doused it in alcohol, but it was all for show. She’d once patched him up after an extraordinarily brutal fight with a shapeshifter and despite broken ribs, a concussion, and multiple lacerations, he’d whined less than this. For good measure, she cleaned out the scratches on his back, too. Though she was prone to scratching and nipping at him when she was really turned on, Brianna had never attacked him like this, and it made her a little queasy to think about it, despite just how damn good the sex had been.
“I can’t believe I did this to you,” she said. The words felt too small. Too hollow.
“I can’t believe I was such an ass to you.” He cupped her face with both hands, thumbs stroking her cheeks. “Can you forgive me, baby?”
She smiled, hesitantly. “Of course.”
“Good. Because it’s about time we finally got dressed and got you out on a golf course.”
“Ah, we missed our tee time. By… six hours.” She laughed a little at his wince. “Yeah. Last night was pretty crazy.”
“So crazy.” He stood up, rubbing the stubbled on his chin. “Let’s give them a call. Maybe they’ve got a late opening. Worth a shot.”
“Baby, if we do that, we miss the hours for the train museum.”
Garrett hesitated. “Look. If you want an afternoon away from me, I’m okay with that. I can go to the museum and I’ll pick up our camping stuff.”
“Is that what you want?” Brianna asked quietly. Her heart felt like it had just been stepped on. Tell him no, you idiot, her mind shouted. She didn’t care about golf. She just wanted to be with him.
“Is that what you want?” he parroted, a muscle in his neck ticking.
“I…” She wriggled closer and wrapped an arm around his chest. “No. It’s really not. I know it’s selfish but I want you with me. Someday we’ll have to figure out how to do our own thing or else we’ll drive each other crazy, but… I don’t want to have to spend any more time away from you than necessary. Not today, at least.”
“Good. Because that’s what I want.”
“Are you just saying that to make me happy? Please don’t do that.”
“Why do I feel like you are?’
“Bri, damn it, you’re trying to score points off me when I’ve already told you how sorry I am.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I just… ugh.” She kissed his breast. “Sorry. Post-fight megrims. Why, Mr. Moranis, if you’d like to go golfing with me, that sounds like a lovely afternoon.”
“Good.” For the first time, he noticed the color in her cheeks and forehead. “Are you catching this crap too? Headache, kinda just general blahness?”
Closing her eyes, she nodded. “Yeah. It’s not terrible, but it’s not fun either. Hope we’re not getting the flu or something.”
They finally managed to rouse themselves long enough for her to finish up the rest of her bathroom morning – or midafternoon – necessities. A couple of aspirin and glasses of water helped fight off some of the worst of the dehydration they were both feeling, but they still moved like slugs out to the SUV.
On the drive to the golf course, Brianna said quietly, “Tell me more of the story. I need it today.”
Garrett glanced over at her. She was twisted a little, rubbing his shoulder gently. Fighting with her always made him feel like the world’s lowest shitheel, even when he wasn’t at fault, but their times afterwards were some of their most honest, most caring hours, and in that moment, he felt, as he always did after their squalls, the full extent of just how amazingly lucky he was. “Baby, if you really want the true story, I…”
“You were just about to tell me how you and Francesca tracked down the bad guys. Right?”
A smile broke through, and he settled in. “Right. So there we were…”