The Dead Girls Club - Damien Angelica Walters Page 0,3

his arms everything feels right and normal and true. When I let go, he cups my face and kisses me on the forehead, the tip of my nose, my lips.

“If I don’t shower, my clothes are going to stage a rebellion,” he says. “You know things are bad when you can smell yourself.”

“Swamp ass,” I say. “So very sexy.”

I start dinner, focusing my attention on seasoning chicken breasts and fetching a bag of frozen broccoli. Gourmet cook, I am not. Hanging out in the kitchen has never been anything I enjoy, much to my mother’s chagrin when she tried to teach me.

After dinner, after our teeth are brushed and we’ve turned in for the night, I roll onto my side, rearranging the pillow until it’s comfortable. Ryan does the same and we link fingers, the rasp of his rough carpenter’s skin, calluses and scars aplenty, a comfort. In the light from the bedside lamp, his green eyes appear gray, his blond hair brown. I twine a finger through one of his curls, pull it between thumb and index finger until it’s straight, let it go. A simple act, yet it’s the tether I need.

His face and physique, all long hair, cleft chin, and lean muscles, say California surfer as much now as they did when we met at an acquaintance’s party, the ink fresh on my bachelor’s degree. I took him for a pot-smoking perpetual student. How wrong I was. Only two years older than me, he already had his own home improvement business. “I was the kid out mowing lawns every summer and shoveling sidewalks every winter, saving every dollar,” he said on our first date. A coffee shop, him with an espresso, me with a latte. Almond biscotti and blueberry scones. Knuckles brushing together. Knees nudging under the table. Ten minutes in, wanting a second date. Hoping he did, too.

Here and now, he takes a strand of my hair, mimicking my actions, although I’ve no curls to subdue and he rubs my scalp in small circles. I listen to the soft whisper of skin against skin and the branches of the oak tree outside tapping against the roof.

“Do you want—”

“I was thinking—”

“You first,” he says.

“No, go ahead.”

“Want to talk about it?” he says.

“Talk about what?”

“Your rough day?”

“No,” I say, the word too blunt. “Just one of those days.”

“No more weird phone calls?”

A few weeks back, while working late, I received a call with shallow breathing on the other end of the line. I hung up, and thirty seconds later the phone rang again. More breathing.

“No, no calls. Just things that were hard to hear.” He shows no indication of detecting the lie within my words, and I’m grateful I’ve used the excuse before.

“Anything you can talk about?”

“Did you ever hurt any of your friends when you were a kid?” I say.

“All the time,” he says. “Football in the street, acting like assholes on the docks.”

“No, I mean …” I rub the tip of my nose. “Intentionally.”

“Indian burns, snowball fights, dunking in the river,” he says, ticking each item off on a finger. He traces a line from his philtrum to the center of his chin with a thumb and index finger. “One time …” He shifts a little. Frowns. “My buddy Christian and I beat the shit out of each other. Bloody noses, black eyes, the works. Don’t remember what prompted the fight, but I meant every punch. It felt good to hit him, to hurt him.” His fingers make a slow circuit around his mouth again. “I haven’t thought about that in years. What a little asshole I was. Does that make me Hannibal Lecter?”

“Depends,” I say with a grin, despite the cold waltzing the length of my spine. “Did you eat him afterward?”

“With or without fava beans? ’Cause that’s important, right?”

“Could be.”

I debate whether to ask him if he talked to Gerald Kane yet about the outstanding check for their basement renovation but don’t want him to think I’m prying. Bringing it up today would be a crappy thing to do, too. Can’t guarantee I wouldn’t be trying to pick a fight, release some aggression. Why bring that home to him? Into our bed?

I don’t want to talk anymore, don’t want to think either, so I peer through my lashes. “Come here, Mr. Morrison.”

“On my way, Dr. Cole.”

He scoots closer, traces my lower lip with his thumb. I pull it into my mouth, and for a time we let everything go in favor of the crash