"Baby, please," she sobbed. "I just don't know..." she looked off toward the window, her profile twisted in anguish, " ... how it all gets ahold of me."
Kane regarded her in silence over the rim of his whiskey. She looked deflated but tense. A few hours ago she would've stopped traffic. Now she looked ready to lie down in it.
The only windows faced the alley, and a random spiral of smoke drifted through pale shafts of streetlight from the ash tray where her latest cigarette lay forgotten and smoldering. Her face was streaked with tears and mascara, and her crossed leg was doing a nervous shake as she gripped each arm of the chair.
"You're gonna hate me, aren't you?"
Kane wondered what her skin would taste like now. Her neck looked so pale it seemed to be glowing. She wore a blousy, cowl neck sweater that plunged to her navel, exposing more than it covered. It was as black as her miniskirt and torn up pantyhose, and the way it hung off her shoulders made it appear in constant danger of falling off. Her breasts were eminently noticeable, but she seemed unaware of them as they swayed to her nervous gestures.
"You're not going to talk to me? Is this your way of writing me off?"
Kane sighed and took a pull off his drink. His eyes kept moving back and forth between the careless wobble of her weighty breasts, her white knuckled fingers and her darting eyes. Half in shadow, he knew she couldn't follow his gaze. He looked at the shadow in the valley between her breasts and felt a sudden urge to fast-pitch his bourbon at the window. It would make more noise and shards that way.
But he sat still. Took another hit. Said nothing again.
She took a deep breath and rang the buzzer. Then she stood through those awkward seconds, being expected yet suffering the small indignity of waiting to be let in. The height of her pumps made her legs feel strong – supple and lithe as saplings. In those moments, she could feel the heat of her pulse in the surface of her skin – cells pumping with excitement and a strain of fear.
It was always like this waiting to enter another strange room and stand at the center of a circle tinged with the faint stink of adrenalin and lust.
Tino looked high when he finally opened the door. She could smell the lingering vapors inside: herb laced with something pharmaceutical. He grinned, looking down at her from his imposing height, eyes quickly moving from her face to the conspicuous display of her breasts spilling from the deep plunge of her sweater.
She walked in, breezing past any chance of a hug or kiss. She'd never kissed Tino once. At least never on the mouth.
The mouth was personal.
"Okay, I fucked up. Is that what you want to hear?" she meandered on. "I keep fucking up. It's what I do. Maybe you never should've told me you love me, 'cuz obviously I'm just fucking that up, too."
The still calm of his position in the worn chair didn't begin to convey the flash in his mind of bolting to his feet and whipping his drink, seeing her jump in fear as a glittering shower of broken glass shattered whatever thread remained between them. The stronger part of him wanted to touch her, hold her like the pieces of something rare and priceless and broken and whisper his love would be strong enough to put it all back together. But he didn't do that, either.
"Maybe I just deserve what I get," she told herself as much as him in a tone of defeat. "All I'm ever left with in the end is me."
He set his glass on the table by the chair. Her eyes narrowed as she tried to read his face in the shadows. Her hands slowly moved off the chair arms to the low slung edges of the cowl, pulling them together to cover herself, as if she were suddenly aware of turning into something indecent. It came off as a gesture of sadness and shame. Her sadness, but his shame. The way she pulled the fabric around her body reminded Kane of the way she was wrapping herself around a bad time. Something vital within her began to recede, and he knew he could never live with himself if he sat quietly by and watched it go.
But he sat quietly by, watching.
Two more were waiting inside on the couch. They didn't say their names. She'd told Tino on the phone that afternoon she didn't want to know them. Names were personal, too, and she wasn't there to make friends. It was all about skin.
The shorter one had dark, curly hair and a bewildered expression that looked permanent. He had a slight paunch, and actually stood up to extend his hand.
Taye smiled sweetly and took his hand without shaking it. One look and she knew he'd spent his life following men like Tino who surrounded themselves with weaklings in order to look strong. Tino was alpha mongrel all the way.
The other one was taller and younger. He had long, powerful looking legs. Taye barely looked at his face. It was handsome enough, but not especially memorable. She studied his hips and thighs and immediately found herself wondering if they'd live up to their implicit promise.
Taye smiled at everyone. She felt like a flight attendant just before take-off to Babylon.
No bitch, no honey, no baby, no cunt.
Those were the rules. Denigrating language was off limits, but Taye's nipples were already tingling with heat over the notion they were already thinking it.
He was suddenly desperate to see that force of selfless nastiness in her come back, the feral libertine residing inside a tortured angel. It was the part of her that filled him with anger and plunged him into a pit of hopeless anguish. The part of her he disdained for her narcissistic arrogance. The part the tortured angel could never accept being connected to. The part he ached for with a hardness that would never leave him in peace.
Her hair was a mess, like she'd been dancing or someone had been pulling it. It was dirty blonde and fine, falling just shy of her shoulders.
Kane knew it would only be a matter of time before Taye would see the unstoppable signs of his arousal lifting against the fabric of his trousers. It wouldn't have been the first time to happen this way, even though earlier, before it had begun to rain, she had scorched new boundaries to the ever expanding region of her own obsessions. Pure contradiction flowed through his veins as he watched her clutch her sweater around her body. She lowered her head and gave herself over to dry-eyed sobbing.
"Taye," he said, firm but soft. She went silent and looked back up. "We're all only left with ourselves in the end. It's not the worst person to end up with."
She fumbled for a new cigarette, lighting it while the other was still burning down. The sweater fell apart as she moved. Kane watched the inner curve of her breast playing against the edge.
"Easy for you to say."
She was right about that much. It had been easy to say. It was one of those platitudes he half believed that didn't feel like the natural truth when he turned it back on himself. The natural truth was he envied her. She was the pure incarnation of herself, an animal of voracious hungers and fragile delicacies. She fit down inside her own spirit and appetites in a way Kane would never survive.
She took the wine Tino poured her from a bottle of cheap white sitting on a coffee table pocked with scuffs and char marks. It tasted like it might have been chilled an hour ago. Tino dragged in a chair from the kitchen and set it on the other side of the table, facing the sofa. Taye sat on his right thigh, her short skirt bunching around her hips.
The small talk shrank down to nothing when Tino put his hand on her thigh, running it up her hose encased flesh and under her skirt. He cupped her pussy through the fabric, the pleated fringe of her skirt barely covering the motion of his hand. The boys on the couch smiled and pulled at their beer cans.
The taller, muscular one let his empty hand drift over the crotch of his tightly packed jeans.
Good, Taye thought. Good boy.
Kane set his glass aside and rubbed his face with both hands. Then he leaned forward, arms folded across his knees. She was waiting, he knew, but he wasn't able to look up at her at the moment. She was a raw thing, pure motion. He was the fading afterimage of something invented by strangers. She tripped in and out of the gutter as a tourist. His gutter was deep inside where she would never see.
Long, slow breath going in. Longer and slower going back out in a thin stream.
"They always put exotic birds in cages," he told the floor. "But the only bird worth having in a cage is one who knows the door's open, but she stays because it's her choice."
He looked up and found her still holding her sweater closed. Her grip had relaxed slightly. She was looking into the alley through the window, as if she hadn't heard him.
"Stand up," he said, leaning back in the chair again.
She turned her head but still didn't look at his face. She made standing look painful; not in her body but her face.
"Please don't look at me like that now ... not now," she said, looking as if she wanted to disappear behind the wide flaps of her sweater.
"Let go of the sweater," he said. "Why cover yourself now?"
Taye finally looked at his face, pleading with her eyes.
"You showed them, didn't you? You put it all to work like a machine on fire, but here, with someone you mean to love you're suddenly full of shame? Just take it off. It makes you look like a cartoon."
.... There is more of this story ...