Books at the Bar

Cat had officially read the same line three times. She realized that at some point, she was going to have to give up on her client and probably stop staring at tall, dark handsome seated at the end of the bar. She found the former easier to do than latter. She’d only taken this job for extra money and for an excuse to leave her apartment. The last deal cost her a faint scar on the side of her stomach but it also gave her enough income for the next few months. She stifled a shudder as she remembered the details of it. She’d almost had to break one of her hard rules but the payout was too big to pass it up.

Dead dealers don’t collect.” Her grandfather’s words floated through her head after every less than savory job. She never heard them before the jobs which might have been the problem.

She took a big sigh and started on the line again. Her attention, however, kept wandering in his direction. He was the only other person in the bar with a book. She usually kept something to read on her and enjoyed the physical contact of an old fashioned paperback. They fit in her hoodie perfectly and were made to bend. Reading in bars gave her something to do when Brice refused to come out. Nevertheless, it was doing nothing for her at the moment. She took another sip of her Moscow Mule and made an executive decision.

“I also enjoy reading in bars.” She said in lieu of hello. She meant to say hello. She desperately wished for the coolness that came over her when conducting deals. She sat down in the empty seat next to him and prayed for confidence.

“That’s nice.” He set his drink down and looked in her eyes, not seeming annoyed by her intrusion at all. She tried to return his stare but couldn’t hold it. She didn’t want to read him and she knew that the temptation would come if she continued looking directly at him. Instead, she focused on cheeks. There was nothing special about his cheeks.

“All right then. Well, this was good. Good talk. If you’re interested I’ll be down there with my book. It’s not the history textbook you decided to bring tonight but what is? Right?” Cat didn’t bother to even fake leaving her seat. He continue to look at her with interest. It felt as though he were trying to make up his mind about her.

“Did you just flirt with me by insulting my book?” He closed his book and now turned his whole body to her. The smile spread wide and slow across his face and she struggled to keep her focus. It was the type of smile she could tell, without reading him, that he didn’t do often. It also added to his attractiveness which she already found distracting. He was tall and solid. His skin reminded her of the dark wood on Lace’s cane. He had facial hair but it was well kept. She felt the urge to play with his beard and tapped her fingers instead. She bet he used top of the line products. She took a sniff and found her assessment was correct.

“No. I mean, you’re the type of guy who reads history textbooks and some find that sexy. I’m sure.” She smiled and forced herself to continue looking at his cheeks. Cat wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep up without touching him.

“I don’t know that I want to be judged by someone reading “Valley of the Dolls” while drinking gin.” He chuckled and poked at the cover of her book.

“Well, I can’t promise I won’t judge you. But I can promise I won’t ruin the ending of the Second World War.” She raised her eyebrows and pinned him with her best flirty smirk.

“Deal.” He placed his hand on hers quickly. It wasn’t something he meant to do and she could see that clearly. She could also see his whole thought process on his face and felt his satisfaction with the impromptu action when he squeezed her hand lightly before returning to his own personal space.

“My name is Cat. I figured you should know.” She smiled as she sipped her drink. She was already wording the text she’d send to Brice about this later.

“Luke.” He responded and brushed her thigh with his as he returned to his book.

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Client Business

“I don’t kill, no women or children can be harmed, and no love spells. Also, money spells are lies. Anyone who has said they can make you rich by giving you a few words written on old paper is a liar.” Cat sat down next to her client and smiled. She wore her regular blending in hoodie, her hair was a chaotic mess of tight curls underneath and her hoop earrings shone. She’d taken time to apply a light tint to her lips. She found that doing small things like this helped put her clients at ease. The message being that she may be a shady illegal magic dealer but mostly she’s  just girl’s girl looking to make some money for the weekend.

“No women or children but men are fine. Seems sexist, right?” He took her in appearance with approval. Despite the hoodie, he could tell her shape and he liked it. He wondered if her t-shirt was a deep v-neck underneath.

“You got a woman or a child you want to hurt?” She dropped her tone and maintained eye contact. She could feel his discomfort and it pleased her. She’d read him before approaching as she did every client. He gave her jerk vibes but nothing too traumatic. He was tourist in her world and she would treat him as such.

“Of course not. I’m not that type of guy. I just think that rule sounds…”

“And I think if you finish that sentence, I’m going to walk. I don’t need this crap today, man.” But she did need his money. Rent was due and she’d spent her last pay on an extravagant gift for Lace.

“No, wait! Okay. Okay. I need to have an edge. I’m need to be edgier. Take more risks.” He whispered his request. His earlier snark had left him. He was suddenly just a guy in a Member’s Only jacket who was trying to belong. Cat felt interest and pity.

“Why?”

“Does it matter?”

“Walking.”

“Okay! I never try anything. I have spent most of my life in the same boring job. I look 10 years older than I actually am. I’ve lived in the same town all of my life. I don’t even take vacations that require travel by flight. I want to be the type of guy who does that shit. I want go rock climbing and start a business. Something other than this shit.” He looked visibly relieved after he got the words out. Lighter.

“What’s stopping you?” She asked. Cat liked to ask follow up questions. She’d seen way too many dealers cause unexpected consequences that could have been avoided with two more questions.

“I’m not that guy. I see that guy and I want to be that guy. I’m not him.” He looked sad. She felt the regret radiating from him.

“Okay. Deal. Here is how it goes. I am going to touch you and take away some of your fear. Not too much because then you’ll be doing dumb shit like rock climbing without a rope. Get your phone out and ready to transfer the funds.”

“If you take away some of my fear then I’ll be that guy?” His voice was almost child like with hope.

“Sure. It’s what’s blocking you. Again, some of the fear. Not all.” She waited until she heard the ding on her phone and saw the money in her account before she took his hand and held it between her own.

She closed her eyes and allowed a part of herself to travel into his mind. She studied his brain until it became easier to digest. Once she was comfortable, she was able to focus on his responses to fear stimuli and tweak them as needed. She was careful not to do too much. She was serious about not leaving too much of imprint on him. The brain was tricky work and she wouldn’t have accepted the gig if she hadn’t been trained.

Once it was over, she dropped his hand. Hand holding wasn’t necessary for this but it helped put the client at ease. She wouldn’t go into a person if they weren’t open to her. She studied him to see if he recognized the changes she made. No matter how confident she was in her skills, Cat couldn’t stop herself from holding her breath a bit at this part.

He looked at her without speaking for a moment afterwards. As if he were searching for words or self deprecating remark that would make this part less awkward. He opted for a slightly rude wordless nod and walk away. She was used to this and it no longer hurt her feelings.

Her grandfather’s words never failed to come to her when a client left.

“Now, don’t expect a hug or a thank you for shit. Coming to you makes them hate themselves more than a little even though you’re only doing what they asked.”

Father Daughter Dance

“Do they not make dresses in your size here?” His voice was filled with old resentments and ongoing judgement. She adjusted her baseball cap and patted herself down. Brice refused to play this game with him.

“I can check for your size next time, since dresses interest you so much, sir.” She was sure Cat would have laughed at that. She decided to remember to tell her friend that she did in fact have a sense of humor.

Brice was prepared for the large hand that gripped her throat. His temper was easily triggered and his violence was never far from the surface during most of his interactions.

“This place has made you disrespectful and forgetful of your place, daughter.” His voice boomed in her head. She always found it creepy when he did that.

“You’re right, father. My apologies. Please stop blocking my air supply. It’s the only way I can breathe here.” She responded in his head. He was beginning to cause her real pain but she held no regrets about the jab.

He removed his hand and his presence in her head. He allowed her insincere apology to soothe him momentarily. He remembered that she was a mere child acting out and that he would always have the upper hand.

“It is good to see you, even if they are under these circumstances.” He made a slight gesture to their surroundings. There was unreadable graffiti on the brick and the unmistakable as well inescapable smell of urine. He counted three empty grocery baskets lined up on the broken sidewalk. He was sure she picked this place as an insult to him.

“This location seemed discreet and this was last minute. I do apologize, father.” Brice looked him directly in the eyes. She wasn’t surprised by his attitude or disappointment in her. She only wished she could stop apologizing. It was a habit she’d broken when she was no longer directly under his authority. She shook her head to rid herself of the images of a sad childhood filled with lace dresses and feelings of inadequacy. He wasn’t going to ruin this place for her.

“Well, let us not force me to stay here longer than necessary. What is it that you want?”

“I need you to lift it off of her. I have never asked anything of you before but I am asking now.” She kept her voice even, refusing to slip into the stutter or look at her feet.

“No. Your friend knew the dangers of her profession. She brought this on herself. You’re wasting my time.” He didn’t pretend to need context. He didn’t pretend to consider it. He turned his back to walk away and disappear without waiting for a reply.

Brice felt her hands go hot. She felt her fists furl, as though they were operating apart from her. The ball of fire appeared before she could think to stop it. As her anger built inside of her, the ball burned bigger and brighter. She knew he had to be aware of the ball. He even paused his departure as though to taunt her. This was his standard teasing response to her acts of rage and rebellion. He needed to make her feel insignificant. The ball brew bigger.

“Fuck it.” She whispered and hurled it in his direction.

He stopped it and turned it around her immediately. She could feel her own heat and stupidity but not fear. The force of it knocked her on her back. He would never actually kill her. She was his only child and, while he may not love her, he respected what family meant.  Still, he allowed it singe her face before wiping it out existence.

“You dare! I could take you back with me right now and lock you up. I have killed people for less than that.”

“You could try.” She dusted herself off and resisted the urge to place her foot on his chest. She had come here with the best of intentions. She knew the fireball had been rash and unfocused. It was the act of a child in the mist of a temper tantrum. She did not have that problem now. When one road fails you, there is always a detour.

“I could kill your bitch right now. I won’t have to wait for the disease to work its way through her. Right now. I could end it. Spare myself these conversations.” 

“You could but that’s reckless and would cost you your dignity. The great and powerful Ro has time to smite a mere dealer? The great and powerful Ro can’t keep his weird daughter in check without bloodshed? No, that’s not what you want. I am asking you for a pardon. It would cost you nothing. Her disease isn’t even news yet. You could stop this before it becomes bigger, Father.” Brice decided on cold reasoning. She could at least buy her only friend some time.

“She broke the law and opened herself to consequences. The news will hit and the people you are so fond of here will know better than to continue to piss me off “the great and powerful Ro.” They will see what happens when you disobey the law. Magic is not to be trifled with. I will let you live this time. I’ll even let you stay you here amongst them. Do not try this again.” He didn’t bother to walk this time. He disappeared quickly into the air. He ignored the fear he felt at his daughter’s strength. He refused to acknowledge the respect he felt growing for her.

“Fuck.” Brice whispered to herself. She would have to go along with Plan B and that would take longer. She had wanted to handle this before Cat knew she was sick. She took out her notebook and wrote a new to- do list. It was one of things that actually calmed her.

  • Fix Cat’s disease
  • Buy Paula birthday present.
    • Kitten?
    • New Sex Toy?
    • New England Bed and Breakfast?
  • Kill Father.

Love Poem #2

You walk around with me all day
My hair in your beard
My orgasms your ear worm
Wonder if they smell me on you
If my scent is potent enough
I try to pry the pieces of me off
you at night
But instead I watch you sleep
Your snores almost soothing
Your arms seek and find me
I wake up in love
And it scares me fresh out of my shit

Nice

“Could you up the meds a little? My back has been giving me trouble and I just want to sleep.” Yolanda was restless. She hated the new free hospitals and she hated her nurse. He clearly didn’t want to treat her. She hoped her nice old lady voice would buy some sweetness. As well meds. Mostly, meds.

“You know my cousin got his back hurt in that last fight at the Starbucks on Mack? The one last week? He doesn’t have insurance and can barely afford any meds.” The nurse looked down at his latest charge with pointed disdain. He hated that he had to treat villains like they were regular folk. Some even had the nerve to demand superhero treatment. He was getting that vibe from her.

“Oh? Did your fucking cousin hurt his fucking back in the last fucking Starbucks fight? Allow me to apologize with the utmost sincerity. Oh wait! I wasn’t involved in the last fucking Starbucks. That was the Disaster Duo. I am not a part of anyone’s fucking duo, you dumb fuck. Now up the goddamn meds!” She was done being nice. It never worked for her anyway. 

 

Morning

Cat held her feelings like her morning breath, safely behind her teeth. She took three breaths before kissing him closed mouth. She made sure to do it just gently enough so that he’d know she was still there but not hard to make him open his eyes all the way. It was important to her that he didn’t witness this part of her morning. She had to wake up at just the right time in order to walk to the bathroom. If she waited too late, her limbs wouldn’t allow her to make it across the room the bathroom. She shuddered to remember the one time she had to roll her body across the carpet. It had taken her an hour and she left a trial of scales and blood on her bedroom floor. Luckily, it had been a night before she met him.

With the bathroom door closed, she was ready for the next step in her morning routine. She took a shot of cheap vodka that she hid in her bulk sized sanitary napkin box. Then she checked the mirror like one reads the headlines. Today, the hard gray scales started on her stomach and grew up to her breasts. The skin was heavy and looked dead but still caused her increasing amounts of pain. It felt like small teeth were taking slowly but consistently chomping bits her. It was a shit alarm clock every morning but effective. She took another shot of vodka and tried not evaluate her life choices that led to this moment.

“Fuck. OK. A mission. A goal.”

She imagined Brice must have given herself the same pep talk before….

“A mission. A goal.”

She lowered her shirt and brushed her teeth. For some reason, minty breath always helped the next part to be less painful. Immediately after the last spit, she sat ungracefully sat on the toilet and prepared to sterilize her thigh. She allowed herself three breaths and a sex thought before reaching for the needle.

“Hazzah!” She whispered as she pinched her fat and plunged the needle in. It was during this part that she was grateful for fleshy thighs. She watched the yellow fluid flow from the needle and into her.

The effect was almost instantaneous. Her limbs were no longer stiff and the pain faded. She could feel the weight of the teeth feeling lighten and then disappear. Her stomach and breasts regained their brown hue. She shook her head and tried not to think about how many needles she had left. At some point, it wouldn’t be enough. She’d have to stop stalling and get on the road soon.

After five more minutes, she confidently strolled out to meet him back in bed.

“Cat?” He asked, his brow furrowing as though he considered breaking this early AM facade with a real question. He didn’t like waking up alone and then pretending that he hadn’t woken up alone. He loved her just enough to play this part.

“Morning.” She whispered and kissed his forehead. He was almost enough to make her not pack her bag that night. She knew, however, that staying wasn’t an option and leaving a note was the same as admitting she might not return.

“You OK?” He opened his eyes all the way now and patted her butt in the way he knew she found pleasing. He was tip toeing around it. Sh knew he had his suspicions. He didn’t even ask why they stopped sleeping naked or why they stopped turning on the light for sex. He just followed her lead and accepted what was given. For now. She tried not to think about how it would go if he ever pressed her about recent changes.

“Yeah. Yeah. Hey, I love you.” She kissed his chest and patted him there for reassurance. She closed her eyes and allowed herself three breaths and his scent. She laid her head on his chest and didn’t open her eyes. The question part of the morning was over.

“I love you too.” He responded, certain that she wasn’t actually asleep.

Lace

“Look at you. Cuttin’ your eyes at me over some yellow nigga. I bet his people barbecue on the front porch.” Lace tapped the ash off of her Newport and barely looked at her daughter. Her mother’s southern accent never ceased to amaze Cat. Lace was city born and raised but her mother migrated two years before her birth from the South. Her accent only came through when she was angry or highly annoyed. Cat couldn’t tell which feeling was coursing through her body at this moment.

“I’m not cutting my eyes, moms. I just think you were unfair. You’re being unfair.” She said, her words slow and forced respect into them. The underlying message was clear: Let her talk her shit. Let her be wrong. She knows nothing.

“Girl, you getting smart?” Anger was clear now. Lace pushed her gray hair behind her ear and focused her eyes on her ungrateful daughter. She felt the offense like a slap. Let her talk her shit like I didn’t wipe her ass, Lace thought with a barely muted huff. It hurt her every time Cat got grown and disrespectful. It was this hurt that bloomed into anger. Anger felt better than hurt. Lace lit another cigarette.

“Moms. Moms. Come on. I’m not trying to. I just meant. I just wanted..” Cat was flustered now. Thirty and flustered. Goddamn Lace. She hated that she had to come here and ask this of her mother. Cat never asked her mother favors. What was the point of working an illegal underground magic service if it didn’t leave you flush at the end of the day? However, her pockets had finally reached their limit.

“You was what? Look. I love you, I do. I know you think I’m mean old woman who don’t know her ass from her elbow but I loves you, little girl. That yellow nigga does not care two licks about you. But you live your life, soft ass.” Lace pulled deep from her cigarette and let it calm her. Cat’s obvious discomfort was a balm for her nerves.

“Moms. He said he could help me with my condition. I can’t complete my mission like this.” Cat shrunk herself even more in front of her mother’s eyes. She hated using her condition to guilt her mother but this was her best shot. She didn’t tell her mother that her condition was her fault and her mission was probably hopeless. Details weren’t important.

“Aww, sweetie. This is about your condition? You didn’t say that. Why didn’t you say that? What do you need?” Lace let the tension out of her body as though on command. She wished her daughter would just be upfront and save them these fights. All she could see when she brought that string bean two dollar looking ass Negro to her door was a troubled future. All she could see was Cat’s father.

“I need some gold, moms.” She knew gold meant almost nothing to Lace. Her second husband was rich in gold and left it all to Lace when he died. Lace turned most of it into cash and the rest was hidden in corners of the house. Most would be afraid to live that way in the city but Lace was her father’s daughter. She feared nothing.

“What do you need him for? How do you know he can be trusted?” She blew smoke away from daughter’s face.

“He just can be. You ain’t got to trust him. Trust me.” Cat dropped her tone and looked her mother right in the eye without blinking. She held her mother’s eye for 10 beats with no words. She learned this move from her grandfather.

“Okay. I do trust you. If you get yourself hurt for real, Cat, I’m going to be pissed. You think you’re cute now, invoking my daddy. I’ll hurt you a lot worst than that world out there if you don’t come back safe.” Lace warned her. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to stop her daughter from this mission. She hadn’t been able to stop her from continuing the family business. She reached in her bra, lifted her right breast and produced gold coins wrapped in a white napkin.

“Thanks, Moms. This should be enough. I gotta go.” Cat played a coin between her finger,quickly pocketed the rest and allowed herself three breaths. This would be enough for a month’s supply. Maybe two if she could intimidate Trevor. She bent and kissed her mother on the cheek.

“Fuck.” Lace whispered after the retreating figure of her only child. For the first time in years, she wasn’t sure she would see her again.

A Moment

Cat made sure her legs were a good distance from her body. She kept her back firm against the wall. She tried not to think of the possibility of rats running under her bare butt. The smell of Brice’s cologne wafted through the air and tickled her nose. She remembered the advice her friend causally gave before they went out that evening.

“Always on the wrists or your clothes. Never on the neck, in case the ladies get frisky.” Brice said, cocky as she sprayed on her cologne. Cat nodded eagerly, soaking up the knowledge she had no plans on using. Cat was more a spectator than an actual player when it came to life outside of her job. Brice was constantly bringing her out to clubs. It was almost as if Brice was determined to full in the holes of her social life. Cat’s favorite part of the evening was the end, when it was just the two of them being friends. 

“Are you romanticizing this moment?” Brice’s voice brought her back to the wall and the stream coming from below.

“No. You don’t know my life.” Cat held her hand out for one of Brice’s napkins. She was always faster at this than Cat. To be fair, Brice had been pissing on the sides of buildings for years before the idea occurred to Cat.

“I know what little there is to know. And don’t try to create a moment. This is just a night. You are just a little drunk and there are no public restrooms between here and your apartment. Tomorrow, we’ll have pancakes and  this won’t be a significant moment in our friendship.” Brice handed her the napkin and quickly turned away. She was already walking towards the car when Cat got her pants zipped.

“Brice, come on. The sky is beautiful tonight and we are happy. We are fucking happy. And I mastered this move without one bit of pee on my pants or shoes. This is an important moment in our friendship.” Cat ran up to her friend and resisted the urge to throw her arm around her shoulders.

She didn’t speak again until they were in the car and had driven a few miles.

“Hmm?” Cat replied to the silence that turned awkward. Brice hadn’t even turned on the radio.

“Cat. This is just a night, okay? There’s no significance in this life or this planet. You people live and then you don’t. There’ll be a day when you won’t remember me and I don’t want you trying to associate me with the night you successfully drunk pissed on an abandoned dollar store.” 

“Brice. Dude. Bruh. Come on. Not tonight, ok? We are fucking happy. So what if I won’t be here 50 years from now? You know I don’t care about that shit. And fuck what you heard, I’m going to remember you. And I’m going to remember everything. I’m a fucking…you know what I am. Also, we are happy tonight.” Cat’s buzz was fading as it did when Brice brought up mortality.

“Yes. We’re happy now. But there will be a time when you have to let me go. You’ll have to move on. Promise me you’ll do that. Okay?” Brice waited a few minutes for her friend’s response.

“Fuck that.” Cat answered and turned her back to sleep the rest of the drive. The whiskey shots Brice encouraged earlier were finally catching up to her.

.

 

Meet Cute

Cat didn’t smell narc on the woman at the end of the bar but she definitely had ulterior motives for answering her ad. She observed the woman closely with feelings that could easily slip into a crush. She was dressed in a loose fitting button up shirt and khakis. Her long hair was pulled back into a long ponytail and underneath a baseball cap. Cat smirked when she saw the woman’s watch. It was masculine and just shy of flashy. She also wore a chain that dipped down into her cleavage.

“Nope, not a narc.” She whispered to herself. She also wasn’t a potential romance. Cat tried to use her skills to see more about the woman but saw nothing. Her vision was hit with a block and Cat knew it wasn’t a coincidence.

“Fine. I guess we’re going to say ‘hi’. And possibly stop talking aloud.” She walked with confidence. Cat dressed in her most inconspicuous outfit: over sized hoodie and jeans. She looked to this outfit as one does a uniform. It helped her seemed less significant than she was which put her clients at ease.

“You are a fucking idiot.” The woman spoke right when Cat took the seat next to her. She had been too busy smelling the woman’s cologne to get the first word in.

“Well, you’re not a fucking cop so what do you want?” Cat put some bass in her voice and fought the urge to defend herself. She could channel her grandfather when needed. She stretched eye and tried to get a reading from her. It was exactly what he would have done in this situation.

“No, I’m not a cop. But you cannot keep doing this. It’s dangerous and one day someone will kill you.” She looked over at Cat and it felt cold. She’d heard this warning from her mother before but this felt more ominous. This woman made it sound more like fact than advice. 

“Who are you? I can’t get anything from you and that’s not usual.” Cat knew she should be reaching in her pocket but something stopped her. This woman was cold but not a threat.

“Name is Brice and you can stop trying. You won’t get anything.” Brice stuck her hand out in a gesture that felt old fashioned to Cat. With a shrug, she accepted Brice’s hand.

“Hi, Brice. I’m Cat. I’m also a grown woman who will continue to keep doing this for as long it profits her. Got it?” Cat felt a myriad of things at once. She was annoyed, intrigued, wary of and a little attracted to Brice. The strange woman wasn’t wrong about her choice of profession. She knew she should give this up before the worst happened. But…

“This job provides you with a rush right? It speaks to something in you that you’ll never talk about. Doesn’t hurt that it pays well and you can sleep in. I get it. I promise. But this won’t end well, Cat.” Brice softened her tone in the hopes that Cat would soften her defenses.

“Look. Brice. I don’t know if this your thing. You know, placing fake ads, wasting dealers’ time all while looking like coolest butch to ever soft. I mean, you’re cool and I think we could be friends but I’m not quitting. So you can either sit and drink with me or we can part ways.” Cat settled into the seat. She was confident she made a new friend. If she was honest, the first friend since she decided to deal in illegal magic. This was not a field that fostered  comradeship.

Brice took inventory of Cat. She had come here to do community service and save a life. Cat, however, didn’t seem to care. She wasn’t tough or world weary, she was just stubborn.  It was a wonder she hadn’t been killed or caught already. Perhaps she was smarter than the hoodie made her look. Brice also thought she didn’t need friends, especially some two bit dealer. However, she had been in this place for years and loneliness was becoming a real thing.

“What are you drinking?” Brice asked Cat, having made the decision. 

She tried not to cringe when her new and only friend ordered a Moscow Mule.