Story from High School “Lucy” Part 1 of 6

Preface: I wrote this from 1997 to 2002 in college when I abandoned it. I haven’t read all of it but I’m guessing it’s angsty (as was the style of the time)

“Lucy, you made a sinner outta me” – Nick Cave

Nell leaned against Lucy’s door and pulled her coat tighter around her chin. Spring was coming, but not fast enough. Never fast enough as far as she was concerned. The puddles would freeze tonight, and she’d have to plan an extra ten minutes in the morning to scrape the glaze off the car windows. Maybe that’s what kept Ron. His van slipped on some new ice and . . . . No. But maybe he deserved to run off the road just for leaving her out here to freeze for an hour.

She should blame Lucy, who had said she would be here at six, and if not there was a key under the mat. Lies. This was the stupidest errand she had ever run. Going to her brother’s ex-wife’s house to get a vase. A “precious heirloom” according to Mom. Ron forgot to grab it with his manly things when he left. And Lucy didn’t want Ron coming into the house, trying to stay the night and patch things up. According to Lucy he was always coming over, as if some days he forgot how angry he was. Nell found herself in the center of this little soap opera for the past few weeks. It could all be very Jerry Springer on a mild day.

Instead of mild, it was beginning to look like a damned cold day. The sun hovered tiredly over the cityscape to the south, letting Minnesota cold take over. Damnit, Lucy. And now damn that Ron. She knew he had the keys to the Lucy’s place, so that couldn’t be it. If he’d stopped for Mickey D’s, she’d have his nuts.

Finally, a slow van with little headlights turned into the driveway, right behind Lucy’s white Probe. Ron took his damn sweet time to cut the engine. Took his damn sweet time to come crawling out. Nell froze for a second in doubt. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea, having Ron open the door for her. It wasn’t exactly breaking and entering. Hell Lucy’d even said if she wasn’t home to look for the key under the second rock to the right of the stairs. But it wasn’t there, or under any others. And now Ron was here, and it was too late for regrets.

“OK, lets do this, I want to get home to watch the Wolves’ game,” he grumbled. It would be a whole different story if Lucy were home. Good thing for Lucy that she wasn’t.

“It took you long enough to get here, Ron. I’m just going to grab the vase. She said if she wasn’t here it would be on the table.” Ron fingered his old house key and stuck it in the door. She wondered if he felt bitter at all about this business. No doubt he wasn’t here because of the vase.

“Okay.” Ron said. He followed into the emptiness of Lucy’s house. The vast unfamiliar darkness made Nell uneasy, but Ron sauntered right over to a light switch.

Nell ducked into the kitchen. There it was as promised, the vase that her great-great grandfather bought for her great-great grandmother long ago and a little white piece of paper. A note from Lucy? Nell unfolded it, wondering what Lucy might have to tell her.

Oh boy, it wasn’t from Lucy, it was for Lucy.

Dear Luce,

How are you doing? I missed you so badly these past days. It’s time we got together again. There’s something I wanted to tell you, even if you already know it. I love you, Lucy. I wanted to tell you to your face but you’re never around, even when I call. I love you. You changed me from the inside out. I know we agreed to distance ourselves from each other, but–

Nell dropped the note back to the table, excited and dirty and sure that Ron shouldn’t see it either.

“Come on, Ron, lets go.” She could feel him discovering secrets in the redness of her face.

“What were you reading?” He smiled.

“None of our business, Ron.” Why would she leave it out in the open? Jesus, Lucy! Nell hoped it was an accident the note had been left out for her to find because she didn’t want to know about the affair that broke up the marriage. She wanted to remain innocent of the woman’s indiscretions, at least to a point. The balance between sister-in-law and friend fought to remain comfortable.

“Okay,” he grinned like the devil and reached for it. Nell curled around and grabbed it, trying not to rumple it further. He laughed.

“Ron, Ron, don’t.” His arms reached around her waist and the paper crumpled. Dammit. She knew he was too strong. His damn bullying started long ago and she’d never won. His hands gripped the note too hard. “You’ll rip it, you bastard-it’s Lucy’s!” And so she let go. Damn it.

Ron’s face very quickly faded from its smile. “Bastard!” He growled. He read the note, fast, angry, going much farther than Nell had. Her breath hung in her throat—this was her fault. He turned red like a cartoon character, not a human. Coca-Cola red. Maraschino cherry red. Satan’s jumpsuit red.

“Ron, it’s really none of your business,” she said very quietly. Veins popped out on his forehead and his arms. Nell didn’t think anything could move those arms, they held the note in a death grip. He stiffly moved around the table, looking for something more. He looked to her counters, clean and white. Nothing but salt shakers and a small angel statue. Lucy loved her angels.

“I’ll kill him. Fucking-” Ron mumbled to himself. Oh boy. Nell froze, feeling very sick deep in her stomach. There on the floor lay the matching god damned envelope. Don’t see it, Ron, don’t see it, she thought desperately, looking everywhere but the incriminating evidence.

“Calm down,” she begged. Ron stomped right on to that envelope and froze in place.

“Son of a bitch!” He bent over and retrieved the prize. A glance at the return address and he headed to the door. Fucking hell, she had no choice now but to stop the psycho.

“Ron, stop it. I’ll call the cops!”

“Nell, back off,” he hissed, heading for the back door. It slammed into place behind him.

<>

Nell couldn’t breathe the air. She had to chew it carefully between her molars in order for it to go down at all. She had barely squeezed into the door of Ron’s minivan before he screeched into the street with controlled rage. Excitement boiled in her chest, making her feel a bit of guilt. But she was trapped now, and interested to see what in the hell Lucy was doing.

“If she’s there. . .” Ron muttered under his breath. Looking at her brother, Nell laughed softly.

“Ron, you’re divorced.” She shouldn’t have to remind him, he’d filed the papers. Ron answered with his silence, like she wasn’t even there. Just like Dad would have done in such a moment of anger. So Nell sighed and looked out to the mad city. A smile slowly rose between the thick stifled breaths being chewed out onto the window. The testosterone in the air brought her smile to a painfully feral grin. “Ron, maybe you should wait for Lucy to get home and then you know, talk about this.”

“He’s the one, Nell.” Christ, how would Ron know? The man acted like he owned Lucy, just because she had let him think he did for a couple years.

“You’re divorced.” Nell reminded Ron once again. A run-down bookstore stared from their left. The next block looked even seedier. Decrepit apartments reaching to the sky for salvation. Not a good idea. Not a good idea at all.

“You read the note. He’s the one. He’s the one that broke up my marriage.” Ron fought to keep himself in control. He hadn’t been ready to leave her, she should have known it, but Luce signed those papers anyway. She let him stay in the house. Too often. Who ever heard of letting your ex-husband stay with you in your house? And when Ron had to move in with Mom and Dad, he wanted to stay at Lucy’s more and more. Nell knew. Lucy told her. Luce even admitted that big, clean house would have been the place for Ron’s kids to roam around if he had only looked the other way. Damn that Lucy, she’d get at least one man killed by the end of the night.

“The note wasn’t your business either. Let’s turn around.” She didn’t fully mean that, the words soured in her mouth. “Sleep on it and talk to her about it when she gets home.”

Ron jammed the gas, squealing the van around a corner. He wouldn’t answer her, he had that face on. Nell’s heart beat in time to some deep somber funeral march as big brother jammed his cavernous minivan into a handicapped parking spot. The very same minivan he would have driven his kids to soccer practice in.

Instinct told Nell not to step out of the van. Her hand lingered on the door handle, sweaty there. He’ll get himself mauled, she thought. Ron was so damn skinny, and not too strong. He jogged sometimes, Nell thought, but then she didn’t really know. Yeah, he could beat her but he’d be killed if he tried to fight anything resembling a man.

He had ten yards on her when she slammed the door. The sound of it echoed against the tall buildings on either side. Nell imagined pigeons being swept from their roosts high above. She jogged to catch up, panting through adrenaline half from Ron’s impending death, and half at the ambience of this place. The rotting buildings converged on them, a greasy dirt smell floated in the cold breeze. Nell couldn’t imagine that Lucy would be here with some guy when she could have just as easily had him in the beautiful home she’d made for herself.

“Ron, really.” Nell said weakly. He swirled in a mad dance in the midst of mailboxes and slammed into the inner door. Thick glass rattled nervously. “You’ll get yourself arrested!” Nell gasped. Ron flung back, eyes darting around the room. Nell observed him, trying to separate herself from the present. He breathed too hard through his nose, still as red as Prince’s Corvette.

“I’ll give him a fucking reason to arrest me.” Ron looked to the intercom and his crumpled envelope. Nick something, that was the name scribbled at the corner. “Cavalier” said the name Ron smashed into the intercom platform. Nick Cavalier.

“Ron, please.”

“You shut up! Okay, Nick Cavalier. Fucking Bastard!” He pressed the button aggressively, killing it.

“Ron, this isn’t funny, what if Lucy is in there, what are you going to do?” Ron paid her no attention. He smashed Mr. Cavalier’s button again and again and AGAIN. The intercom finally buzzed.

“Yeah, what?” A voice asked distantly. Nell could see Nick Cavalier as huge from that voice—a deep and distracted don’t-fuck-with-me kind of tone.

“I need to talk to you.” Ron pressed his lips thin. He would not fool this guy.

“Yeah? Who is this?” Mr. Cavalier asked.

“I’m Ron. We have a mutual friend.” God, calm sounds came out of that red killer’s face. Nick Cavalier sighed heavily on the other side of the intercom. No time for this.

“Ron.” Nell whispered. She crossed her fingers, such a childish gesture, but she didn’t want to witness her own brother’s death. Please make the strange man, the deep voice just shut off that intercom and leave Ron stuck behind locked glass doors.

“Mutual friend in who?”

“Lucy Frank.” Ron spat, almost giving himself away in anger. It was probably the only time after the divorce he had ever called her by her maiden name and by the sound of it, it tasted awful. He tossed his head wildly. Nell’s fingers throbbed in their tight cross.

The door buzzed, inviting them in.

<>

“Ron, stay calm. Ron, Ron!” Nell could barely keep up. The peeling walls, the water-stained ceiling, that smell. They weren’t supposed to be here.

“Nell shut up or go wait in the car! This is my business. The fucker broke up my fucking marriage!” His head snapped down in anger. Jesus. Nell followed his gazer to Lucy’s note. It sat wadded like a used kleenex in his hand.

“Ron, this isn’t you! You’re not a fighter; if this man is huge he’ll kill you! What if it’s not even the right guy? Huh? I’m sure a lot of men have slept with Lucy after-”

He wheeled around, his cherry-colored head ready to explode. The note crinkled from within his clenched fist.

Here was the door, and open just a crack. Nell was going to have a heart attack at the tender age of twenty-two. Jesus, it beat in her throat, screaming for attention. Ron barged inside and all she could do was follow.

“What the hell?” Nick Cavalier reeled at the appearance of her brother, stepping backwards right into his own CD tower. His eyes reeled, searching for recognition.

“You fucking bastard!” Ron cried and charged forward. Nell dove after him.

“What? What do you want? Jesus!” The man’s eyes glowed as big as cue balls amidst all the black hair on his face. He stumbled back drunkenly.

“I am the man whose marriage you destroyed, fucker!” Ron stepped on top of and over Nick’s cluttered coffee table, triggering an avalanche of beer bottles and white papers.

“What? I haven’t seen Lucy in-” Nick hit the wall and slid along it, pinned by Ron’s forearm.

“Ron! Ron!” Nell screamed, but she couldn’t stop him. His fist struck home on the black goatee and scruffy moustache. Nick flailed back, helplessly. The man had been drinking; the apartment stunk like beer. Ron kicked him in the shin and Nick Cavalier screamed like a girl.

“Shit,” he whined, bringing his hands up in front of his face. Nell’s stomach surged. She had to stop that maniac. Ron brushed her away too hard onto the coffee table.

“You stupid jerk!” She cried, her guts all twisted and tight. Ron unloaded. He launched his body at the strange man, arms flailing like crazy. Nell sobbed unexpectedly, looked at the phone. It would be easy to call 911. “Don’t kill him!” She got back up. Blood. There was blood on the floor already. Jesus Christ. Adrenaline burned her. She closed her eyes and attacked Ron from behind.

His flesh moving under her hands was strong, tight, and frighteningly hot. She dug her fingernails into his arms and sobbed again. This was too crazy. He kept hitting and hitting! Nell opened her mouth and dug into his shoulder. She closed her eyes against the flavor and the pressure and the awful taste of Ron’s blood suddenly in her mouth. He shrieked, reeling back. She let go, spitting copper as she fell back on the coffee table. Glass shattered. Beer splashed out across the floor.

“You fucking bitch!” Ron cried. He rolled backwards until he hit the couch, tripping against it. He sat on its arm, glaring at the pile of man on the floor. Clarity washed over him and softened his mouth. He laughed nervously and turned back, looking at Nell with cold eyes. Fear crossed into his face. “Oh geez.”

“What if he’s dead?” She panted. This place suffocated her slowly. Pictures of unfamiliar people looked down at them with bewilderment. Their smiles remained frozen in spite of the scene before them. Nick Cavalier lay on the floor in a good amount of his own blood and did not move.

“Oh Lucy.” Ron turned around in super slow motion. His face lost its color, becoming waxen. Nell couldn’t move, she tried, and her muscles would not do it. A shiver– so cold– raced down her back as Ron passed by in a trance. He even slammed the door behind him.

Nick lay still, his eyes open. Should she go to him, feel for a pulse? Her throat objected with a light gag. He could be dead. A dry sob ripped her throat and echoed hard in the room. She had to. She had to. Make her feet move across the brown carpet. That blood wouldn’t come out easily.

“Sir, uh, Nick?” She swallowed. Her stomach couldn’t get more tense. He didn’t respond. He did not respond! All of his things accused her. His CD rack leaned precariously against the wall with jewel cases dripping out of it like steady rain. His beer bottles cowered in fear on the floor, and one lay shattered against the side of the table. The pictures of strange people glared from the walls and a tiny dying plant in the window seemed to writhe without moving at all. She had let Ron kill this perhaps innocent stranger. He was not Lucy’s type at all and his expression was much too surprised to have committed adultery. Another sob squeezed the air from Nell’s lungs.

Her heart literally stopped. He moved. Or maybe not, it was just a bubble. A bubble of blood grew from his crushed nose and popped silently. Breath. Thank fucking god he was alive. Nell’s heart nudged her forth, insistently pounding in her ears. She had to get Ron.

“You idiot, you could have killed him,” she yelled, startled that he was standing there in the hall, right next to her as she came out the door. Sweat glued his hair down to his face. The cheap smoke-stained lights turned him yellow and ugly, incredibly stupid. “He’s unconscious and bleeding all over-” her voice jumped in a dry sob. “I’m gonna call 911.”

“Shh! Jesus, Nell are you crazy? I’ll be arrested. Let’s just go.” He didn’t look like he could go. He looked like he’d messed his pants. Blood specks stood out on his white shirt. He pushed both hands over his hair with controlled force, revealing fresh sweat stains under his arms.

“You should be arrested,” her voice bordered on a scream, “he didn’t do anything to you!”

“Nell, shh! Calm down, please! I can’t take this.” His voice sounded like it would break into tears. She shivered too hard and wished she could run away.

“I’m going back in there, damn you. You better come help me.” Her chest felt icy. She couldn’t really go back in there, could she? She had to. Had to. Ron didn’t look like he’d go back in anytime soon.

“Just don’t call 911. He’s probably all right. I didn’t hit him that hard.” Ron’s face looked almost comical. Wide eyes, white face, she was surprised he didn’t puke. Nell didn’t want to go back in there. She forced herself to move, leaving the door wide open behind her.

The body of Nick Cavalier lay curled around itself on the floor exactly as they had left it. In her mind she could see Ron in handcuffs. Behind bars. Hell, he could end up in jail for life. The maniac deserved it!

“Sir, are you okay?” She barely choked it out. It hurt like fire in her throat to talk at all. She couldn’t let him die. Her fingers tingled distantly. Towels could be good. She jumped up and ran back across the beer bottle graveyard. Hadn’t she heard blood doesn’t clot so well when you’re drunk? Where would towels be in this maze? She darted down a thin hall, could see his unmade bed at the end. There was a small door on her left. She whipped it open. Gold. Nell grabbed too many towels and tripped back into the living room. She threw them across his home and they landed in an array across the floor.

Nick’s hand moved uneasily, smearing his blood deeper into the carpet.

“Oh geez, sir, don’t move. I’m so sorry,” Nell knelt close to him, at the edge of the blood, cringing. He could have diseases. One eye stared up at her in terror through blood-wet hair. He smelled like a copper bowling alley. Smoke and beer and blood. He opened his mouth. Oh shit. His front tooth hung at an angle that she had last experienced in second grade. The noise he made wasn’t exactly very English or even human. His shaky hand reached up to his face and felt it gingerly. Another frightening noise leaked out of him.

“I tried to stop him. Jesus Christ, don’t move, I should call 911!” She had never hyperventilated and wondered if this was it. Her breath didn’t seem to fill her lungs, it just hurt and hung in her mouth, unsatisfying.

“No,” Ron plead as he secured the door behind him. His heavy pacing echoed through the floor. Nick Cavalier moaned. Nell reached out to him with a towel.

“Uh, um. . .” Words flew through her head so fast she couldn’t pick one to say. He made a noise like a laugh. She had to know where all the blood was coming out of him. Probably his nose and definitely his mouth.

“Wha’d I do?” The stranger moaned through the mess of blood in his mouth. He coughed and it drooled out in a gross little trickle.

“Ron thinks you had an affair with Lucy.” Nell cringed. Nick slipped in his blood again as he reached out trying to find a grip on the floor. Instinct wanted her arm to move forward and help him up, but she couldn’t find the courage. Ron’s thin ghostly figure stood over them.

“I di’int even know she was still married,” he slurred. Ron growled.

“Ron found a letter,” she turned back to her brother, “It’s not even his business.” She spat. Ron had kept the note in his palm the whole time and now he dropped it on the floor, just short of the smear of blood. Nick propped himself on the wall, looking very afraid. He looked at Nell intensely. She felt queasy. He must think she was as crazy as Ron.

“It is my business.” Ron snapped through clenched teeth. Nick flinched with every word. Nick’s oily t-shirt clung to his skin revealing the gentle outlines of his ribs. It was now spattered in blood, but hadn’t been clean for a long time. Nell realized her stare made them both uncomfortable. So she leaned back for a towel and offered it.

“I haven’t even seen Lucy.” He spat on the floor and dabbed at his face. The haze was wearing down. He was getting angry, finally. “I haven’t even talked to her since college, OK? Damn it. I’m calling the cops!” He pushed up against the wall, struggling to stand. He swayed on his heels and had to drop back down onto his ass. Nell wanted to reach to him again and help him up. He growled at himself.

“Don’t call the cops.” Ron wanted it to sound tough but a little hint of whine pushed through. Nell imagined all that testosterone and adrenaline was giving way to absolute terror now. It showed in his face. He’d be mauled and dismembered in jail.

Nick looked up at her brother. Nell thought Nick looked too afraid to call anyone. At least for now, while Ron stood there trying to look strong. He’d call after they left. Nell knew it. Nick moved his cockeyed front tooth with the bloody tip of his tongue and cringed. “I can’t believe this shit. You’re paying for this,” he slurred, gesturing to his messed-up face and touching his cheek tenderly.

“Yeah, okay,” Ron agreed hastily. “Come on, Nell.”

“We can’t just leave him lying there,” she scoffed.

“Yeah,” Nick protested. He carefully gauged Ron’s reaction before slurring to Nell, “Come on and help me up.” She gulped and stood up, letting a stray towel fall to the ground. The silence felt sticky and strange, begging one of them to say something. Nell reached down to the black-haired man. He wiped his bloody hands on the towel first, thank God, and then reached out to her. He scrambled, drunk and dizzy, yanking her shoulder down out of the socket. Half on his feet, he leaned on the wall, but wouldn’t let go of her. Nell’s stomach turned light somersaults. Nick stared out into the room, looking dizzily past her and Ron.

“Maybe we should take him to the hospital, Ron,” she suggested. She could almost see his heart beat faster.

“He’s fine.” Ron choked.

“My chest hurts.” Nick spat over Nell’s head. She could see Ron wanting to be mad. The threat of jail curbed that. Nick Cavalier leaned hard on her arm, dragging her skin down painfully.

“You’re fine.” Ron stated. Color was filling out his cheeks again, now that this guy was alive.

“Are you okay?” Nell asked dumbly. Ron paced nervously behind her.

“If my damn teef don’ fall out.” He bit at the air gently. Blood still ran from his nose, getting caught in his messy black moustache. The facial hair made him look older than his eyes said he was. He had to be Lucy’s age, 30 or younger. She couldn’t see him with Lucy at all, maybe once after she had way too much to drink, but that’s it. Nick finally released his death grip on her arm. The skin was red now. She rubbed it as he stumbled along the wall, limping and leaning hard, conceivably heading for his bathroom. He left a thin trail of blood on the wall, and light brown footprints on the carpeting.

“I think you owe it to this guy to take him to the hospital,” Nell whispered harshly.

“He’s fine,” Ron bit his lip.

“You are sooo lucky he’s not calling the cops in his bedroom or something. He’s either so drunk or so nice or his brain is so bruised that he’s not pressing charges on you right now.” Her voice came in a trembling wave. Relief. Yes. She breathed fast through her nose.

“Let’s just leave and he can go to the doctor by himself if he wants to.”

“Christ, Ron, what if he is really hurt and he dies?”

“He isn’t going to die.”

“I can’t believe you attacked him.” She laughed now, nervous. Outside the sun had disappeared completely. The apartment felt dark before, now it was the batcave.

“I’m just sorry it’s the wrong guy,” Ron grumbled, reaching for the note and the envelope. Nell snatched it. She looked at the return address, apartment 56B Nick Cavalier. Her eyes drifted over to the postmark. 1997. Yeah, Ron. Ron the moron, 1997. Ron didn’t even know Lucy back then.

“Look,” she pointed it out. God bless the post office. Ron had ruined Lucy’s keepsake of this loser, who was now busy making loud wet noises in the bathroom.

Ron shrugged and handed the crumpled papers back to her. The idiot knew he was immensely wrong but would never admit it. Nell wanted to be there when he caught holy hell from Lucy. Her black hair would whip around, her eyes would burn him. He would speak, but she’d have a beautifully calm and maddening response for each of his excuses. He would storm out and then Lucy would laugh about it with Nell. Then they’d talk in concerned solemnity about how messed up Ron was.

“Take him to the hospital, Ron. You can drive him, leave him there with cab fare, just please bring him. If the man falls asleep and bleeds to death or something you’ll be in jail forever.”

“All right, if you don’t tell Lucy.” He breathed out. Not fair.

“Whatever. Just take him to the ER.” No way she wouldn’t tell Lucy. Anyway, they had to put the note back, grab the vase, and Nell wanted to know why the hell Lucy left the note on the table in the first place. She should be home by now for the inquisition.

Nick’s fingers scraped on the wall, alerting them to his presence. Nell looked over to him, feeling a little disgusted. “My nose is broken,” he mumbled through a wad of toilet paper.

“Ron’s agreed to take you to the hospital,” Nell said. Ron growled.

“Mmm,” Nick moaned. He could barely prop herself up. Yeah, they had to take the man to the hospital.

“You’re insured, right?” Ron asked.

“You ass,” Nell smacked him in the chest.

“And you can’t call the cops,” Ron gulped. “If I drive you to the ER and get your blood all over my van, you have to agree not to press charges.”

“He’ll take care of the bills, I swear,” Nell added. Could Ron be more of an asshole? He cleared his throat and stepped toward the door. The urge rose between her eyes to move to the phone and dial 9-1-1.

“I have no way to get back from the ER.” Nick hissed. His eyes glowed with fear, not quite sober.

“I’ll give you cab fare.” Nell could see Nick turning it over in his mind. His eyes seemed huge, even though the flesh around them swelled. He drew a breath so shaky it almost released his grip on the wall.

“Good, let’s get going,” Ron was out the door before Nell could protest. She watched carefully, felt the air crowd around Nick and her.

“I really am very sorry. He’s not usually crazy. I came to stop him from doing anything stupid.” She stopped and looked at Nick. His tongue carefully pulled at the loose front tooth. Eyes stared and didn’t see. Nell gulped, awkward and helpless as Nick released his grip on the wall and staggered out the door, silently past her.

<>

She felt him with the hair on the back of her neck. She caught Ron eyeing him in the rearview mirror and wondered what the hell they were doing. Lucy was probably wondering where her note was and why Nell’s empty car sat in the driveway. Why Nell left the door unlocked and where the hell she even was. In the excitement of all this, Nell had forgotten all about the vase and the open house.

Silence, silence, silence. Nick stared at her, she knew it. She unfolded Lucy’s letter slowly, trying to smooth it out. Lost cause. What was Lucy doing with the letter? Nell didn’t read the rest of it, not in front of Nick. She smoothed it against her jeans and carefully folded it along the original lines. Nick didn’t ask for it, but she was sure he wanted to. She tried to spy on him through the rearview mirror like Ron did, but it was at the wrong angle. She saw lights of the passing city and the other side of the freeway.

Ron pulled up to the Emergency door of the hospital and put it in park. Nell tucked his old note in the visor and waited for Ron to help him out. And waited. Ron tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. Nick struggled with the van’s tricky sliding door.

“Glad one of us is an adult,” she spat under her breath as she slammed her door. The spring night sunk its teeth into her skin. Nick sat looking like a heroin addict in the dark of the van with black hair sticking in crazy angles across his face, jammed with blood. His stained white undershirt glowed in the florescence of the ER entrance. He could have been a bum, easily. He’d retained his scent of alcohol and sweat, a heavy smell that wrinkled her nose.

“I still need cab fare,” it was the first thing he said since the apartments and it startled her. She fell into the silver van and bounced of its coldness.

“Ron,” she growled. Ron struggled to reach for his wallet.

“We really are sorry about this, uh, Nick.”

“Me too.” He moved the bloody towel from his face to say it. Man, he looked like hell. She hoped he had no insurance and that Ron would be paying for an overnight stay in the hospital.

“This should do it.” Ron threw three bills, all 20s into the back seat. Nick grunted and bent to retrieve them. Nell crossed her arms against her stomach and squeezed hard. His pants and shirt separated until she could see too much skin and dark sick hairs scattered across his back.

“Here,” she reached back into the front seat and pulled out a piece of paper and a pen from her purse. He watched her with distant eyes. She couldn’t tell whether he was drunk or dizzy as he stared past her. She scribbled Ron’s full name and both Lucy’s and her phone numbers. She thought of the look on Mom’s face if she caught wind of any of this and decided to forego the number where Ron could be reached. “You can send the bills to him.” Ron snorted in the front seat.

“Don’t worry, I will,” Nick Cavalier spat at her. Nell nod and climbed back into the van.

Relief buzzed into her, a shaky sad relief. What the hell was that? Jesus, Ron! Lucy was killing him, just like when they were married, only this time it wasn’t Lucy’s fault. Ron started the van and turned up the music loud. He wouldn’t look at her. He needed something, another woman. Something to get his mind off Lucy. She drove him crazy. Crazy enough to attack a stranger.

“You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t end up calling the police.” Nell said. It didn’t feel finished in her head. Probably because Ron was acting like he didn’t do a damn thing wrong. He didn’t answer her, bastard. He still acted like such a baby. Never grown up. She looked out hoping to catch one more long glimpse of Lucy’s old lover and make sure he was all right, but he was already safe inside the emergency room.

<><><>

Nell folded her hands on Lucy’s kitchen table. She didn’t like the sick wrong feeling she had about this whole situation. If Lucy would only come home! Nell shivered. Ron sat across from her, the crumpled letter between them. But it wasn’t his house or her house. He had the key– it wasn’t breaking and entering. Lucy surely didn’t mean for him to use it to come in whenever he wanted. It felt like they were both in pretty big trouble.

It was hers and not his. Her angel things flung all over, ceramics, calendars. The table the note rested on was black steel and cold glass. She liked things to be cold and new looking, clean and surreal. Ron would have had oak and warmth. Not Lucy. Lucy’s keys lay still on the counter, but they were so bare they could easily be an extra set. Maybe she wasn’t coming home tonight.

“What are we doing here?” Nell asked. She wanted Ron to leave first.

“Waiting for Lucy,” he grumbled.

“Are you going to tell her?” Then she really wouldn’t leave. He’d never tell her the whole truth on his own. Ron glared to her first from under a sweat-damp brow, then looked to the letter.

“If I don’t, maybe that drunken loser will.” He pushed up from Lucy’s transparent table and walked to the open back door. He had opened it to let in the cool spring air. Maybe to chill the sweat off his tense body.

“I don’t know, Nick seemed willing enough to let it go. You just better pay him off fast.” Ron grunted acknowledgement. It sounded like a growl. Maybe Mom could help Nell get Ron into counseling or something like that. Of course Nell didn’t really believe in counseling until Ron’s fists disfigured that poor guy’s face. All with no evidence but an ancient letter. Keys on the counter and Lucy’s car in the garage. She could be anywhere. With anyone.

“How long do you have to wait to file a missing persons thing? Forty-eight hours?” Ron demanded. His red eyes made her stomach fall.

“Ron, calm down. She’s just out having fun. She’s allowed.” Allowed. What the hell am I doing here, Nell asked herself again in her brother’s ex-wife’s house. He paced the kitchen and stopped to look out Lucy’s window.

“I’m worried, Nell, or I wouldn’t be waiting.” His hands gripped the steel sink. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of her all day. She won’t answer my calls; she hasn’t been at work-”

“She wasn’t at work?”

“Well, not necessarily. I just kept missing her.” Missing her. It hadn’t ended yet. Would it ever?

“Ron, maybe she didn’t return your calls because she doesn’t want to talk to you.” Nell sighed.

“No, no, I left messages with her co-workers. She might be stranded somewhere.” He turned around, not looking so much like an older brother, but more like a hurt child.

“Her car’s still here. Maybe her work just told you she was out.” She regretted having to be the one to suggest it to him, and damn it if he didn’t look surprised.

“They wouldn’t do that, Nell, if Lucy was in, she’d talk to me.” Now he came to sit again in the steel chairs. He pulled one out and it scraped against Lucy’s white octagon tiles. “Really. I know we’re divorced. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.”

Nell laughed. Friends! “But you’re acting like a jealous husband.” She shook her head. The man had lost it.

“I still love her, Nell. Maybe I should call her mom.”

“I think we should just go. She’s avoiding you, Ron.”

“You’re wrong.” Now she’d pissed him off. Nell stood up and walked alongside the snow white counter, trailing her hand, picking up no dust. The calendar hanging from magnets on the fridge still showed the fairly unmarked month of February. If Ron noticed that it hadn’t been flipped to the two-day-old month of March, he’d only have more reason to continue this absurd vigil. Nell stood squarely in front of it and turned to her brother.

“Really, Ron, I’m leaving and you should go home too. Come back tomorrow morning and she’ll be here. But I bet Lucy will be very pissed off when you show up in the middle of her hangover.” He glared. Nell felt a little spark of warmth inside. She couldn’t help it. He’d grown up, got married and even divorced, but he still had buttons that were very easy to push.

“I’ll stay until nine.” He breathed onto the window.

“Call that Nick guy when you get home and see if he’s still alive. Maybe you can even convince him not to tell Lucy that you almost killed him.” Nell snapped. Ron slumped into his shoulders, hands almost caressing the cold sink. She had to shake her head to keep her stomach from really hitting the ground floor.

“Bye,” Ron grumbled at her. Nell’s eyes rolled automatically.

“Let her go for Christ’s sake,” she hissed as Lucy’s front door slammed behind her. The night seeped in around her in its quiet way. Poor Lucy. Her tulips had begun to peek through the ground under the floodlight beside the door. Nell hoped she had a huge scary man on her arm when she got home to find Ron obsessing in her back window.

<>

Her mail in one hand, keys and the bag of spaghetti makings in the other, Nell struggled with the door. Friday was ending finally. Thankfully. Three classes and four hours of work later Nell Ledbetter was free to die for the night. The big stray apartment cat waited at the door, looking up at her in dull expectation. She grunted to him as she passed into the apartment.

The bag of groceries fell on the island counter. She put her keys down. Obviously Sara was out. Good. The good thing about living with Sara as a roommate was that the girl was never home. Like Lucy, Sara kept herself occupied with the opposite sex all of the time. Lucy, Lucy, Lucy. Not one hour went by today where thought didn’t drift to her former sister-in-law. She imagined her at home, looking at the crumpled and dirty note and wondering what the hell Nell had done with it. More than likely, Nick Cavalier would call her and tell her everything that had happened, if he hadn’t already.

Nell was more than tempted to call Luce herself. She liked to talk to Lucy, hear all the gossipy things she had to say about her work, about her current boyfriend. Hell, she was surprised Luce hadn’t called her. Maybe she had. The answering machine promised that much. Nell visited the refrigerator briefly and sat down to her Snapple as she tuned in to the three messages.

BEEP

“Hi, Sara, it’s Jack. Call me.”

BEEP

“Sara, how are you? This is Steve. Call me if you want.”

BEEP

“Nell? This is Nick Cavalier. The guy your brother beat up, remember? Anyway, I can’t get a hold of him or Lucy. If I can’t reach any of you tonight, I’m calling the cops.”

BEEP

Nell froze. She shouldn’t have given the guy her number. Yeah, she felt guilty at the time but now she didn’t have the time or patience to deal with him. And he was trying Lucy? Man. She couldn’t help but feel that this was her fault. If only she’d driven home and called Luce later instead of insisting on calling Ron for his keys. She decided in that second that tonight she’d go over to Lucy’s and talk to her about the incident. Lucy could get Ron to pay the bills three times over. She stood, cold Snapple in her hand, and switched on Sara’s black and white portable TV. Spaghetti and Seinfeld reruns might almost be enough to make her forget about it.

<>

Coming home to an empty apartment proved quite depressing. Nell switched on the light. Another phone message for Sara blinked with urgency on the Wal-Mart quality cheap answering machine. Nell pressed the button and began to unzip her coat.

“This has to be the fiftieth message I’ve left tonight. This whole thing is causing. . .” Muffled noises racked the tape. He said damn, or at least Nell thought so. “I’ll give you until ten, then the police are being called.” Nick Cavalier. Nell picked up the phone and called Lucy’s. No answer. Where was she hiding? Damn. It was Ron’s problem, anyway. Stupid bastard. Nell might even enjoy seeing him in jail, hearing about it from mom and dad—the ones who he’d probably have to rely on to bail him out. She laughed, but she didn’t mean it. Her fingers fumbled quickly to erase the tape.

<>

Nell adjusted her glasses. She always wore her glasses to work in the campus library. She wanted to keep with the stereotype, although she would never stick her hair in any kind of a bun, the fluorescent lights were enough to turn contact lenses into little miniature suction cups. So Nell adjusted her glasses and leaned on the counter. No one on the entire campus must have any paper to write. Maybe twenty students came in while she stood at the front desk; at least eight of them regulars.

Nell sighed into the empty lobby again

Sick. She hadn’t thrown up in a while, but she could feel it now, creeping amongst all the fear. She’d come this far, and the walls were staring at her, waiting for her knock. Her hand flew to her back pocket and closed gently around the small steak knife wedged there. Crazy. If he found it he could call the police on her. Okay. This was Lucy’s old boyfriend she was thinking of, pretty safe, right? Sure. They had probably tied each other together and made love in a tub full of jello, but anyone who does that at night has to be at least half normal during the day.

She knocked. What if he’d already called the police? Oh then she’d look stupid. Well, she thought, looking back down the hall, it was too late now. She had been buzzed in. She had knocked. Nell thought she could make out noises behind the door, coming closer. Yes, there the knob clicked and turned. Okay.

“What in hell do you want?” He spat, looking down at her. Looking being a relative term. Nell swallowed.

“Geez,” she stammered, frozen at the sight of him. His eyes barely showed under swelling and blackness—both eyes.

“Yeah, ‘geez.’ Do you want something?”

“I, uh, I got your message. Messages. I just wanted to be sure you wouldn’t call the cops.”

“And you couldn’t just call?” Okay, no need to be snappy. The knife glowed in her back pocket, maybe he could see its blade shining on the wall behind her. Not a good idea.

“You didn’t leave your number. I just wanted to make sure everything is all right.” He didn’t even flinch. Her face slowly grew red. “Although I’m not sure why,” she added in a much lower tone.

“Sorry. I am obviously not in the best of moods.” he sighed and rested against the doorjamb. The pressure in Nell’s chest released. She looked at him now, guilty again.

“I suppose not,” she tried to smile, but she looked stupid. She knew it. He sighed.

“Well, everything is all right.” He didn’t mean that, of course, just trying to get rid of her.

“Good. Just make sure you ask Ron for as much money as you want—I mean need,” oops. Maybe she shouldn’t have said that. A smile crept across his face that made her guts tie themselves up. Shit.

“He’s rich, eh? Maybe I should just take him to civil court and sue his ass off.” Tiny, puffy eyes stared at her at her and lord, eons went by. What could she say? Ron would kill her. “Relax, I’m kidding.”

“Oh,” she stammered. Tried to laugh. It echoed sickly off the stucco wall.

“I’m sorry, kid,” he loved it. That ‘kid’ shit didn’t sit with her for a second though, and this place smelled worse with every inhale.

“I’ll have him call you.”

“You apparently don’t have my number,” he looked like a monster with those black eyes. She couldn’t tell anything from his facial expressions, they all looked like puppet strings were yanking his face half apart and then slapping them back together as the pain hit. And it did hurt. He wouldn’t admit it, she could tell he was too arrogant for that. He leaned on his door like he could crumble on himself at any second and she did not want to ask him for his phone number.

“I don’t have it,” she sighed.

“Well, I usually don’t give it to just anyone,” he snorted.

“You know, you’re a smartass.” Nell growled. He laughed.

“I know.”

“You’re frustrating the hell out of me,” she grumbled, close to turning away and leaving. He deserved it.

“I’m sorry. You’ve brought nothing but sunshine to my life. Do you want to come in?”

“Why, did you forget your phone number in there?”

“Ha, seems like you’re the smartass. I was just thinking I could get you something to write it down on.”

“Oh.”

“Oh,” he mocked. Christ. He pushed off the door and turned into the apartment. She followed, a little interested to see the inside again. No, a lot interested. She stepped in, feeling her face get a little red. With a nauseous shudder, she realized in that moment that she wanted to be here. A part of her did, anyway, wanted to know something about Lucy’s past. And she really did not want to see Ron go to jail.

Nick disappeared somewhere into the dark apartment. This would be the perfect chance to snoop around, just for the hell. A few short steps brought her in full view. Light from a neighboring building spilled in to meet the blue glare of the TV. He had no lamps on, nothing overhead. What the hell was he, a vampire? She stepped in further to see around the coffee table. The blood had dried to a thick brown—he’d never get it out of that carpet. He hadn’t even cleaned up the beer bottles yet.

Where the hell did he go? Plenty of paper lay right there on the coffee table. Nell’s stomach growled. She jumped. Where was he? Nell gulped. She needed light. There was a lamp in the corner, one of those ones that started on fire when things got caught in them—she forgot the name. Wouldn’t it be great if she burned the apartment down? She turned the knob and it snapped on. Nell felt like Alice in Wonderland, suddenly made about ten times larger. The room around her shrunk in the light. The papers on the table gained words. So many papers—what did he do for a living, she wondered.

She looked down at the typewritten pages self-consciously. It had been minutes now, where the hell. . . maybe he thought she was leaving. What was the last thing he said to her? Maybe he didn’t know she had followed him in. Geez. What now? If she left and he came out expecting her, she’d look so stupid. She tried to swallow down the nasty feeling clouding her throat. It wouldn’t go.

“Nick?” She asked. Too quiet. “Nick?” Oh god, she would never gather the courage to go back there. Some thick sounds, very low, like footsteps started from the hall.

“I’m sorry,” his voice, and then his silhouette ambled out of the hall. “Here,” he thrust a limp strip of paper at her. “I’m sorry it took me so long,” he panted, out-of-breath.

“Are you okay?” She had to ask. He shook his head no.

“I’ll be great as soon as I can talk to your brother. Give him that.”

“Okay. I’m sorry all this had to happen.”

“Of course you are,” he gasped. That couldn’t be good. He pushed past her to flop down on the flat couch.

“No, I really am,” she said. With a breath she convinced herself to sit down. His head turned slowly. She shivered at his little boy eyes closed in by bruised flesh.

“What do you want?” He moaned.

“To make sure you’re all right. You don’t seem all right, and I feel really badly.”

“Thank you,” he reached into the mess of bottles, the sarcastic words hanging in the air. Nell watched him carefully. She could understand his anger. His hands were sloppy and unsteady as he reached out to straighten the pile of papers.

“Can I ask you what that is?” She asked, feeling his sigh. He clomped it on the desk.

“No,” he groaned. She sighed, had enough of this. Her curiosity kept her sitting, but the anger was breathing right down its neck.

“All right, then,” she slid to the end of the couch, ready to stand.

“I’m sorry, okay. I just. . . “

“It’s alright,” she interrupted, “I’m sorry for coming over and being nosy. Is there anything I can do for you other than having Ron call?”

“Uh, well, you could have him clean that up,” he motioned to the blood-stained carpeting. Nell wrinkled her nose. Ron wouldn’t be able to clean that, they’d have to replace it. Not like this was the Ritz or anything, but you can’t leave an apartment with huge faded bloodstains on the carpet and expect to keep your security deposit. It was already dry, probably impossible to get out.

“I could try to clean it for you,” she offered, surprised at herself for offering. She wanted to help him, though, felt sorry for him sitting in the dark in obvious pain.

“As long as it gets clean I don’t care,” he groaned. Nell stood up, looking for a lightswitch. This was an exercise in futility, surely, but she felt she should try.

“Do you have any Tide or laundry detergent or anything? Carpet cleaner, even?”

“Listen,” he mumbled, “Nell, don’t do this. Make your brother do this. You seem like a nice girl and I don’t want to trouble you any more. Go on home, pass the word to your brother that he owes me or I will become a problem for him, okay,” he sighed, hand over his eyes and lifted his feet onto the mess on his end table, jingling beer bottles. “Just go on home.”

“At least let me pick up the broken glass,” she said. He shrugged. She felt strange, suspended in front of him. Now that he had his hand over his eyes, she could make out a major bruise on his forearm. Ron had really kicked the crap out of this guy. She should clean up what she could and get the hell out of here; leave him alone. As long as she was sure he wouldn’t call the cops on Ron. Stupid, stupid Ron.

She knelt down and began gathering shards of green glass in the palm of her hand. It smelled down here near the floor, like beer and mildew and maybe urine. As she tried to breathe in little breaths that would keep the smell away, a tinge of fear crept across her back. He was watching her, black eyes burning her back. Good lord, this wasn’t right. She focused on the little shards; the ones that could work into socks and cost Ron more money. Her instincts told her to whip around and glare at him, get his eyes off her back, but she would rather just keep picking glass up quickly and get the heck out of here.

Once most of the pieces were in her hand, she turned to him. The pain on his face shocked her back so that she had to hold herself up with her free hand. “You okay?” She asked. He snapped out of it—perhaps he hadn’t been staring at all. For an uncomfortable second she watched him come back to consciousness. His eyes focused on her.

“I’m fine. There’s a garbage in the kitchen, to the left.” He blinked. What a wuss, she thought unintentionally. Fear was gone from her in a second. Ron had beat this guy up, for Christ’s sake. Ron, who could barely change his own tire. Nell shook herself off, snapped herself back into reality and got to her feet.

“I think I got most of it, but you should definitely vacuum,” if you have a vacuum, she added mentally and turned to the kitchen before he could respond.

Beer. The guy should look like he was about to drop a ten pound baby by the looks of all he drank. Bottles lay scattered across the kitchen, on the table, counters, in the sink. Most of them were green, but there were others. Alcoholic. She resisted the urge to stop at the refrigerator on the way to the overflowing garbage can. She gently shook the shards onto a bed of crumpled paper and half-buried green. The more she saw of this man, the worse off he seemed. How Lucy ever knew him was a total mystery. Someone that beautiful, sophisticated, unreal with this man—a bum one step up from his cardboard box, shut in the dark with bottled beer and very bad luck.

Little grains of glass remained in the palm of her hand, so she went to the sink. She let the water run, looking for soap. She tried not to focus on the dirt ground between tiles, the oily stains on the wall. Just let the water run all over her hands until they felt clean enough. Her fingers hesitated to touch the knob enough to end the water, but she forced herself into it, fast, and wiped them on her jeans. No soap, no towels either.

She felt grossed out, but it wasn’t that dirty in here. Yeah, the garbage needed emptying, but no dishes lay in the sink. The kitchen table was spotless. What did she care? She shuddered, scared at the amount of time she was spending here, examining him. She better get out, go call Ron and Luce if she had to. But first, the curiosity ate at her—she had to check the fridge. If all this guy subsisted on was slightly expensive beer, maybe Ron should pay him back in McDonalds’ dollars or something. Nell pulled the fridge open slowly, trying to mask the sound. Jesus. More green bottles, two twelve packs? Fuck. At least there was some food—all kinds of it, actually. At least—

“Hey,” she jumped off the floor, letting the door slap back into place.

“God! You scared me,” she breathed shakily, wrapped her arms tight around her chest. She deserved it, but damn. Her face got very hot very quickly.

“Uh,” he scanned his own kitchen in kind of a dazed way like he was seeing it for the first time in a long time. She waited, struggling to breathe normally and think up an excuse for being nosy. “It’s been a long week,” he grunted and put his hand on the fridge, shutting it for good.

“I’m sorry, I was. . . uh,” his eyes stopped on her, causing a chill to scream up from her tailbone. His stare was like a snake’s, void of understanding and hungry nonetheless. Pissed off. A gulp he could certainly hear rattled from her throat.

“Maybe you should just. . .” he let his voice trail off pointedly, and eyes already buried in purple bruise squinted together tighter. His body reminded her of a crow, crooked and thin and dark, with all that black hair closed in around glassy black eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she giggled nervously, hated its flaky sound. “I’ll let Ron know he better call right away. Uh, give him a couple days, okay? I. . . this is difficult. This is difficult but I will make him pay. Lucy will make him. I mean, I’ll tell Lucy if I have to—he’s more afraid of her than police.”

“I already called Lucy,” Nick mumbled. He made a deliberate motion with his head and shoulders, pointing her out the door. She nodded, caught his drift and would be more than glad to get out of here and never return. Lucy had some explaining to do.

“I’m sorry,” she stammered. His eyes followed her out of the kitchen, she could feel them as she tried not to look at the beer bottles and stack of papers, the stained couch and the bloody carpet. She stopped only at the door to maybe offer another apology, as if it would help. This meeting had been a total disaster. He was already limping back towards the couch, and she wondered if the uncertainty of his step was from painkiller, beer, or head wound. He didn’t look over, so she slipped out as fast as she could and very gently shut the door.

<>

God damn. She wasn’t safe here, the buildings looked down on her with hatred, but she couldn’t drive away from them yet, couldn’t think. Nell’s hands rested on the cool metal of her car door, tucked behind her. She looked out over the street. Red and white lights reflected on the glossy road. What the hell was that? What had she just done? Acted like a psychopath. Her intentions had been good—stop him from calling cops, help him clean up, make sure he wasn’t dead. So why did she feel so wrong, stupid? Stupid, stupid, stupid. She wanted nothing more than to air this all out with Lucy, put it in her hands. You make Ron pay, you help this Nick guy with whatever he needs. This wasn’t really Nell’s business. She stood up, cursing Ron. Time to go home and crash in front of the TV, forget how stupid she was.

<>

Oh, great. Just great. Nell growled to herself, squeezed the key in her hand. She almost didn’t see it. The doormat overturned. Why had she ever agreed to the signal? She slumped against the opposite wall and stared at the closed door. She didn’t want to go in, as much as Sara didn’t want her there. But where now? It had been months since Sara had last turned the welcome mat over; months since her sheets had been so turned over as well. Nell felt herself sliding on the wall. She had been so looking forward to a night in front of the TV, alone, comfortably in sweats. She stared at the door and the mat, back and forth until she wanted to throw it against the wall. Shit.

<>

Lights on in the dining room. Thank God Lucy was home. Nell couldn’t escape the images of Sara on the couch, all over some man, the sounds of it barely muffled through thin walls. And the drive over here only made her angry, added on to the bullshit between Ron and that freaky drunk guy. Nell pulled to the side of the calm street and sighed. She didn’t know if she could do it. Going to her parents’ house might be a better idea then going inside to tattle on big brother. She stared through the frost-framed windshield at the sober yellow light through lace curtains. Everything in Lucy’s house was nice, feminine, and hers. What Nell wouldn’t give for her own place that actually felt like a home, without the noises of someone else constantly there; the smells, the phone calls. Jeez. If she didn’t get out of the car and talk to someone soon, she’d go crazy.

Her breath preceded her in the cool March air. Nell watched her feet on the little sidewalk; careful not to slip on some spring ice. The outside light next to the door wasn’t on. She breathed in deeply and bit her lip. This wouldn’t be terrible. Everything would be in the open and that would be good. Still, it took another frosty exhale to convince her fingers to press the doorbell.

“What the—“ she whispered. The shape of Ron ambled over through the dim living room and fumbled with the door. If he hadn’t seen her already, she would have turned and run. Now all she could do was stand there and think of something to say to him.

“Nell, what are you doing here?” Ron sighed, sounding very tired. He looked pale, or maybe it was the darkness of the living room behind him.

“Is Lucy here?” She felt like she already knew. Of course she wasn’t.

“No. Go home.”

“I can’t go home. Sara is at home,” she leaned against the door frame, shivering, unsure of what to do. An evening with Ron in Lucy’s abandoned house was barely better than sitting in the hallway, waiting for Sara to leave or kick her “friend” out.

“So what, Nell, she’s your roommate.”

“She’s not alone, you ass. I don’t want to hang out with you, Ron, but it’s cold out here. And you need to call that guy you kicked the crap out of—he’s leaving threatening messages all over my machine. He’s—“

“Nell, I’m not letting you in if you’re gonna bitch at me about that.”

“Whatever, Ron. I,” she sighed, frustrated. “Can I come in. I literally have nowhere else to go. There’s no way I’m driving all the way to mom and dad’s tonight.” He stepped aside and she came in, kicking her shoes off in the entryway. Ron didn’t wait for her, just stormed back into the kitchen and sat at the table. All the lights were off except for the one over the little table, and the house was silent. Nell frowned and looked at her brother. He didn’t look good at all. Nell sat in the chair across from him and noticed the letter sitting crumpled and bloody between them. “Are you okay?” She asked.

“I’m still worried about Lucy,” he grumbled. Nell reached for the letter. It was her business now.

“She’ll be home, Ron,” Nell said. This was only the second day Lucy had gone MIA, and Nell didn’t worry about what Lucy did with her free time. Unless it had to do with this Nick guy. Nell read the letter.

Dear Luce,

How are you doing? I missed you so badly these past days. It’s time we got together again. There’s something I wanted to tell you, even if you already know it. I love you, Lucy. I wanted to tell you to your face but you’re never around, even when I call. I love you. You changed me from the inside out. I know we agreed to distance ourselves from each other, but I suffer knowing that you are so far away. I got your card the other day. They make me genuinely happy to be alive. Please call soon. Remember that night in the park? You were more beautiful than all the stars put together, and what we did there was truly cosmic. I miss you, Lucy. I know that the relationship you are in now isn’t good for you. Please come over, I’ll make you dinner and we can talk. Maybe take a walk in the park. See you soon,

Nick

Nell rolled her eyes. Pretty cheesy. Why a letter? Wasn’t that a little primitive? It wasn’t even that eloquent. The handwriting was shaky. Hell, maybe he was drunk. So many questions, and no Lucy to answer them. Like what was the letter doing out on the table in the first place? She had known Nell was coming. Ron’s sigh broke her reverie.

“You look sick, Ron.”

“I don’t feel very good, Nell. My shoulder hurts like a bitch where you bit me,” he spat. Nell stood up and got behind him.

“Let me see it.”

“Fuck off.”

“Seriously, Ron, let me see.” She grabbed the bottom of his shirt and yanked it up. He hissed, but let her do it, even raised his arm so she could pull the sleeve up off his arm. The bite wound glared at her. She could make out where all her teeth, top and bottom had latched on, poking holes in the flesh near his neck. “Shit, Ron, have you looked at this?” The swelling and red area around it looked insane.

“No. I can hardly move my arm without it hurting.” Nell chuckled nervously.

“I bet you have a fever from this—it’s really infected, man. I think you should go to the emergency room. Can’t human bites be really dangerous?

“Thanks a lot, doctor,” he grabbed his shirt and yanked it down, wincing with the effort. “Are you gonna pay that bill?”

“No, but if you die, I’ll probably go to jail. You don’t want that, do you?” She looked down at him, but he wouldn’t look back. He folded his hands back in front of him.

“Nell, can you please find somewhere else to go? I just want to be alone.” He sounded pathetic. Sad. Her stomach burned with disappointment and a little hurt. She tried not to be affected. Tried to shake off the utter loneliness that hit her.

“Okay, Ron. Please call that guy tonight. Please?” She set the paper with Nick’s phone number on it right in front of him. He didn’t look back at her or acknowledge her at all. She sighed and hurried her shoes on, burst into the cool night.

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