Previously, on Week in the Head...And now ...
On Monday evening, Sean yelped with a bit more falsetto than he was truly comfortable with. "Are you trying to kill me?"
"Course not," Karen giggled. "Right now you're the only man who I don't want to die."
"Then maybe you should stop throwing sharp, metal objects at my fucking head."
"We're playing darts, niño," she reminded him.
"Which involves hitting the fucking dart board," he explained, "and not my fucking face!"
"I did hit the dart board!"
With his eyes, he followed the trajectory of the projectile in question and sighed, "Actually, I can see now that this is my fault."
With some amazement, she asked, "How is it your fault that I almost stabbed you in the face just now?"
"I am standing in front of a dart board."
"Estupido," she agreed with a half-shrug.
"On the other hand," he started.
"Yes?" She was really intrigued now.
"The board at which you should be aiming is perpendicular to the one in front of which I am standing."
Her eyes widened in shock, and she dropped the remaining darts. She covered her mouth, but not before asking, "What do you mean, 'perfume dick allure?'"
He was too baffled to respond.
She grabbed his cheeks in her palms and spoke directly to him. "You're not making any sense, niño."
Her breath, a combination of rum, tequila, fountain drinks, and decaying beer, utterly delighted him. "I said perpendicular."
She blinked and released him. "Oh."
She grabbed his cheeks again. "You shouldn't use big words like that to a girl as drunk as me."
"You're not that drunk."
"You're so sweet!" She kissed him on the forehead. "And cute!" She released him for real this time and wandered away.
He followed, picking up the discarded darts.
She gazed over her shoulder at him with a smirk. "Why won't you dance with me?"
"Because I want you to continue to respect me."
She stopped suddenly and spun around. He rebounded off of her, and the darts flew out of his hands. Ignoring him, she asked, "Worried that you'll look like a pendejo?"
He knelt down to clean up the mess. "There's no point in worrying about something that will never come to pass."
She crouched down in front of him, impressing him with her ability to balance in heels. "Is that your way of saying yes?"
"It's my way of saying, 'I don't dance.'"
She grabbed a fistful of his T-shirts and got to her feet, dragging him with her and forcing him to drop the darts again.
"You're on your own," he told them.
She pouted. "But I thought you were hanging out here with me!"
"I was talking to the," he tried to say, but couldn't quite finish because she had been yanking on his arm and slapping his shoulder. "What?" he finally cried.
"I have an idea."
He raised his eyebrows in anticipation.
"Ask me what it is," she demanded.
"Buy us drinks!"
"I don't drink," he repeated.
"Don't buy you a drink then, tonto," she said slowly, "buy me a drink."
"What if I don't want to?" The question sounded hypothetical, but it really wasn't. He had no desire to get this woman any drunker. The sun had barely even set.
"You have to!"
"You have to buy me a drink every time you don't dance," she explained.
"Karen," he replied, "that doesn't even make sense."
She grabbed his cheeks. "Makes more sense than your perfume dick allure."
"Thanks!" She kissed him on the nose and released him. "Gin and tonic. Lots of limes."
"I have to go to the bathroom first."
She searched the nearly empty pub for a perfect place for them to sit, calling out, "That's between you and your perfume."
Sighing, he took a detour to sweep the darts off the floor and return them to the bar before heading down a long, dark hallway. Hidden behind a pile of plastic crates and some empty kegs was a door leading to an alleyway. Used primarily as a loading entrance, it was the perfect place for someone to slip outside and smoke a cigarette or something more without drawing attention to him or herself. Sean and his nemesis were the only tobacco smokers in their social circle, and together they had declared this area a neutral zone, never to be sullied by their perpetual conflict. There were some things about his nemesis he'd miss, and here, joint in hand, haunted by nostalgia, it was safe to remember that.
Sean had fully integrated himself into Eugene's social circle around the same time Eugene, Eugene's girlfriend, Rocky, and Mateo had started turning twenty-one. Since Sean's alcohol problem had begun and ended long before he'd reached that crucial birthday, he had never associated drinking establishments with actual drinking. Therefore this pub had neither tempted nor threatened him; in fact, it became kind of a second home. He hadn't planned on saying farewell to this home this week, but fate had brought him here.
Now that ghosts that smelled of ozone surrounded him and kept him safe, he could finally catch his breath and ask himself a question that had been dogging all afternoon: what the hell was he doing? He knew full well that had warmed up to Karen over the course of their handful of encounters, but there was no excuse for the way he was following her around, fetching her drinks and cleaning up her messes like he was some kind of spellbound Sherpa. As far as he knew, there existed not a single chivalrous atom in his whole body, so it's not like he felt she needed a rescue.
She must have been playing him. She probably did this all the time. It made sense. Gifted as she was, both physically and intuitively, she had control over any heterosexual man she set her mind upon. The power of it all would make anyone tyrannical. Even Sean couldn't defend himself against her charms, and he was abstinent. It was all his own fault. If he had been direct with her when they had first met, all of this could have been avoided. He'd treated his complete antipathy toward human contact as a game, and when it was obvious that this game had only challenged and encouraged her, he should have shut it down before it escalated. Now he was trapped. He couldn't just flee down the alley, because they'd taken her car, and human decency prevented him from letting her drive home.
He plotted his course. From this moment on, he would play along. He'd sit back and allow her to burn herself out on grief. He'd then drive her to Mateo's apartment, walk home, and try to get some goddamned sleep.
"Are we agreed?" he asked himself.
Absolutely, said his soul.
It's about damned time, said his mind.
His libido shrugged reluctantly.
Upon returning inside, he slapped two bills on the bar and demanded, "Club soda and a gin and tonic."
Craig the bartender replied, "That is way too much money for a gin and tonic."
Sean pointed at the second bill. "That's for forgetting to put gin in the tonic."
Craig glanced at his watch. "Your date must have started early."
"She's not my date."
"Are you sure?" he asked. "Because she's treating you like a date."
"No," Sean sighed, "she's treating me like a bendy toy."
Craig looked over Sean's shoulder. "I'd be her bendy toy." His eyes glazed over. "Though I'd turn into her stiffy toy, if you know what I mean."
Sean closed his eyes. "No, Craig, I don't know what you mean. Could you explain it?"
"Um," Craig fumbled.
"You're referring to an erection, right?"
"I'll go get your drinks."
Sean shook his head. Unexpectedly, the marijuana made him chuckle. "Perfume dick allure."
When Craig returned, he told Sean, "Glen's talking to her. You'd better go and save her."
"Why do I need to save her?"
"Glen's talking to her," he replied.
Sean snapped, "She's not a fucking damsel in distress, Craig. She's a woman."
"Alcohol's not some magic potion that turns women into helpless slaves."
"Seems to me," Craig sniffed, "given your history with Glen Erickson, you should be more concerned about him being around women you're with."
Sean clenched his jaw so hard it almost snapped. "What did you just say to me?"
Craig grinned. "Lighten up, buddy. It's been years since that happened."
"There's no statute of limitations for what that fuck-bag did," Sean snarled.
Craig held up his hands in mock surrender. "Calm down, dude."
Never taking his eyes off the bartender, Sean swiped the bills from the bar and replaced them with a much smaller one.
Craig gazed past him. "Uh, Sean, he's taking off his shirt."
Sean bolted away so fast he knocked two barstools over. He skidded to a halt at the booth Karen had picked out and slapped his hand on Glen's shoulder with more than two and a half years of solid , pent-up fury. "Hi, Glen!"
"Ow, shit!" he yelled.
Sean growled, "You want to cover back up, don't you."
Sean squeezed. "That wasn't a suggestion."
"Fine!" He pulled his shirt back on.
Karen told Sean, "Glen was just showing me his surgical scars."
"Did he tell you why he had surgery?"
"Breast reduction," she replied.
Sean nodded. "You have to respect his honesty."
"I can't have children, either." Glen told them. He leaned in closer to Sean and added, "They can't resist me when they find out I'm shooting blanks."
Karen cleared her throat. "Glen was just leaving."
"I never said that," he replied.
She took Sean's arm. "Then we were just leaving."
Sean glared at Glen as they found a table near the dance floor.
"You really hate that guy," she said.
He groaned and took his seat.
She scooted closer to him. "What did he do to you?"
"He didn't do anything to me."
"Then what did he do?"
"I'm not going to talk about it."
"Then maybe you're going to tell me why you left me alone with him," she demanded.
"I didn't leave you alone with him," he replied. "He showed up when I was away."
"And you didn't come running when you saw him there?"
"I'm not some knight in shining armor," he told her. "I don't do rescues."
"You really do suck at this, niño." She sighed. "That cabrón made me sober. Where's my drink?"
"I left it at the bar," he admitted, "when I..."
"Came to rescue me?"
She kissed his cheek. "You're learning."
"Now go get it," she commanded.
No sooner did he get to his feet than two glasses appeared on the table. Craig held out his hand cautiously for Sean to shake. "I'm sorry about what I said back there."
"Yeah?" Sean asked.
"I wasn't thinking."
Sean shook his hand. "Forget it."
"Who's your friend, niño?" she asked. "Besides the bartender, that is."
"Craig," Sean replied, "this is Karen."
"Charmed," Craig said. "Sean and I go way back. We were best buddies for a long time."
"Really?" she asked.
"Yeah," Sean told her. "We were roommates our freshmen year."
"Didn't see you graduate," she informed Craig. "Dropout?"
"I took an extra year," Sean said so Craig didn't have to.
She sipped her drink, and then frowned at it. "All that extra learning makes you extra smart." She touched Sean's arm, leaned in close, and whispered, "Get rid of him."
"Why me?" he whispered back.
"You're my knight." She hopped off her seat and announced, "I gotta pee!"
Alone with Sean, Craig asked, "Are you sure you two aren't dating?"
"Hell no," Sean replied. "She thinks I'm gay."
"I can see why she'd think that."
"You, Craig, are all class." Sean shrugged and added, "Truth be told, it's the only reason she trusts me, so I don't tell her otherwise."
"She had her heart broken recently," he explained, "by a guy whose only motivation was getting his hands all over that admittedly spectacular body of hers."
"But she's going to be in town for a while, and I'm leaving in a few days, so maybe you have a chance."
Craig grinned. "You think?"
"I do," Sean replied. "I mean, you'd have to be her friend first. You know: get to know her, take her shopping, and listen; and I don't mean just wait for her to finish talking, either."
"Just be patient," Sean assured him. "Over time--and I'm talking about a lot of time, months at least--she might start to see you as something more than just a friend; something special, even. Someone she might be able to fall in love with."
Craig looked sick.
Sean slapped his shoulder. "Totally worth it, though. She's a bambina, don't you think?"
Craig exhaled. "I need to get back to the bar."
"Okay, that was kind of fun," Sean muttered as he took a long drink of his club soda. Waiting for his non-date to return, he stared off into space and cleared his mind.
A few minutes later, Karen disrupted his peace by sliding down next to him, carrying two full shot glasses, a pair of limes, and a salt shaker. "You really scared the shit out of that Greg guy."
"Craig," Sean said. "I hope one of those isn't supposed to be for me."
She licked the back of her hand and sprinkled salt on it. "Nada. What did you tell him?"
While she took her shot and sucked on the lime, he replied, "I told him that, if he didn't leave you alone, I was going to hit him with a stick."
She spit out the lime.
"I'm small," he continued, "but I'm wiry."
Laughing uncontrollably, she rested her head on his shoulder.
When she got her breath back, he added, "Also, it's a big stick."
"I'll bet," she purred.
"I'm talking about an actual stick," he clarified, "not making a metaphor for my penis."
She laughed again and begged, "Stop! You're killing me!"
They sighed together.
She said, "They wouldn't waste their time on me if they knew I was never gonna date again."
"What if you met a great guy?"
"Too late," she replied. "All guys ever do is hurt me."
"You don't understand," he insisted, "what if you met a guy, and he's interested in more than just your ravishing looks? He treats you like a human being for once; like a queen, even?"
"I'd stay away from him."
She nestled deeper into the hollow area between his chest and shoulder. "He's only gonna break my heart tomorrow."
He whispered into her hair, "All paranoia aside, say you keep on encountering this guy, and one evening, you're alone with him, and he's sitting closer, and you can feel his breath on your cheek..." He had to pause for a moment to let a shudder pass through him. "... the chill building on your neck simmers, and he says something extraordinary, and his lips accidentally brush up against your skin, and all you want to do is lunge forward and kiss him with all the love and rage you've kept dammed up all this time." He breathed. "Again, would you reconsider?"
She pulled away from him, but not that far. Her hand rested on his shoulder, burning through his layers of clothing. She focused on his eyes, and then on his lips, and then his eyes again. Then she whipped around and downed another shot of tequila without partaking in the ritual of licking and sucking. "Nada!" she replied.
What the fuck was that about? shrieked his soul.
I had nothing to do with that, his libido declared.
I thought we had a deal, added his mind.
Sean shrugged. "Your loss."
"Not really," she told him. "I'm thinking of switching over to girls."
"You don't say."
"I wonder if Shannon would be up for some experimentation."
He took a long, much-needed gulp of his club soda. "I'm not sure if there's anything she's not up for."
She stared off into space. "It would put to rest something I've been wondering for a long time."
"Are they really that big and perky?"
"Yes," he replied before he realized what he was doing.
Her eyes widened. "What?"
He coughed. "I heard."
She studied him, a mischievous smirk creeping up her cheek.
"From Rocky," he clarified.
"You and Shannon?" she laughed.
"It's not what you think."
"You dirty, dirty boy!"
He glowed red and hid his face in his hands.
"Dirty, dirty, dirty!"
(To be continued...)