When I opened the door, James the nomad a.k.a. Tom the neighbor was leaning casually at the door frame, grinning. He had a bottle of wine and what seemed to be a rented DVD under his arm.
"Aww... baby, it's so good to see you," he purred, "I've been missing your pretty face, you know?"
He raised his free hand and started to run the knuckle of his index finger slowly up and down my arm; I noticed that his other three fingers held a small pack of... peanuts?
He brought a snack.
I pulled my arm back, out of his reach. "Tom, I'm sorry," I said, "But you didn't pick a very good time. I'm really not in the mood tonight."
Tom leaned forward and did what earned him his secret Twilight name: He closed his eyes, pushed his chin forward, inhaled deeply through his nose – so James! – and whispered, "Who are you trying to fool, Annie? I can smell your 'mood' up here... so delicious! Have you just been touching yourself, before I came knocking at your door, hmm? You naughty girl..."
This time the peanut package hand busied itself with stroking my collarbone.
"Stop that, Tom, really..." I grabbed his hand and shoved it towards his chest. "Not tonight."
"Ok, Annie, what's the problem?" He sounded irritated now. "You were gone the whole weekend, you didn't answer the phone, and you didn't even let me know you were planning to leave, in the first place. I thought we... ah, fuck!"
He stopped and sighed; the peanut hand flew up in the air and landed with a crackle on his thigh. "Shit, Annie, where were you?"
"Tom, it's really none of your business where and how I spend my weekends, don't you think?" I said softly, smiling at him.
Tom was a friend, after all. I had no intention to piss him off.
I just want you to go. Now.
He even was my 'friend with benefits', and we had gone along well with that agreement... no obligations, no promises, just occasional sex. Only this wasn't much of an occasion, and I really had no use for his benefits right now.
"It's not?" he asked acidly. "I apologize for being worried about you when you vanished for almost three days without a word. I thought that was what friends do."
He shoved the things he had brought into my direction; I involuntarily snatched them with both hands and held them to my stomach.
"Have a nice evening," he muttered. "It's a DVD with Hugh Jackman; I heard he's showing his naked ass in this, so... enjoy."
"Tom–" I started.
He interrupted me, raising a hand, "Cut that out, Annie, just don't... I have no idea what's going on here, but you're acting strange, and this is just really not cool."
The hand went to his face, rubbing it fiercely. Softer now, he continued, "I was under the impression lately, that we were going somewhere, you and me. I mean – like the last three months or so – when we were together, you were so much more passionate, and you were sending all these signals..."
Uhm... the last three months? Really?
"...and then you just disappeared without a word, and now you don't even ask me in any more."
He was in a huff – so much for not pissing him off. I figured it was time to be a little more direct.
"Tom – it has nothing to do with you. I'm not alone, ok? I have someone over."
In the second I said that, I wished I hadn't. Before I could do anything to prevent it, Tom had one foot in my hallway and was peeking over my shoulder. And to make things even worse... when I turned around to follow his gaze, I saw Kiddo standing in the middle of my living room, watching. Do I need to mention he was frowning?
Great, Portman. You have everything under control...
"Fuck, Annie, I can't even... are you fucking kidding me?" Tom hissed at me.
"What?" I stared at him in confusion, clinging to the bottle-DVD-peanut entertainment bundle I was still holding. He grabbed my arm, hard.
"Are you telling me he was your weekend occupation? Where did you find that runt, Junior High? Fuck! I can't believe it. You're fucking kids now? Going to become a fucking cougar, or whatever?"
He was really mad; with every question he spat out, his voice grew louder and his grip tightened more, cutting off the blood circulation in my arm. There would probably be a nasty bruise tomorrow.
"Let go of me, Tom, you're hurting me!" I turned to the right, trying to squirm free of his death grip, but without success. Instead, the bottle of wine slipped through my arms. I watched it fall down like it was in slow motion; I even had enough time to think...
Shit - it's red wine, the carpet...!
...before its plunge was stopped by Kiddo's hand. I looked up to see him straighten up right behind me, and time resumed its normal speed. I was still marvelling at his stunning reflexes, when he placed the intact bottle on the small sideboard in my hallway and stepped beside me.
Then he spoke, distinctly, in a very calm voice, "You heard Annie. Let go of her arm."
Obviously, and in spite of Kiddo's polite request, Tom was definitely not inclined to do so. Still holding tight, he tore on my arm and pulled me out of the way, but didn't let go. My arm felt entirely numb by now, but I didn't really pay attention to it. What bothered me much more was the way Tom planted himself threateningly in front of Kiddo.
"You're not seriously talking to me, boy toy, are you?" he growled.
"I am," Kiddo answered. "You are hurting her. Let go. Now. Or else..."
I looked at him in awe. He was still outwardly calm, but his hands were clenched into tight fists. I noticed that both his feet were oddly turned inward, as if frozen in the middle of a special dance move, and he was scowling at his opponent. Was he actually trying to be my knight in shining armor?
Oh no... Tom will so kick his ass!
"Guys, guys – calm down..." I started. But none of them were listening, apparently too occupied with the grand opening of their testosterone fest to even notice my presence anymore.
"Or else what, sissy? Will you call mom and dad, yeah?" In order to make his position even clearer, Tom roughly flung my arm up in the air. This time the DVD case went to the floor – and I let out a wail.
And suddenly someone pressed Fast Forward...
My arm was free before the DVD even hit the ground – I noticed hazily it was 'Wolverine' – and I heard a voice, Kiddo's voice,snarl, "Don't touch her, asshole!"
The momentum of whatever had hit me made me stumble two steps backwards into my apartment; while at the same time Kiddo darted forward and literally crashed into Tom like a wrecking ball.
I winced and involuntarily clenched my fists. The small air-filled package I still held in my hand gave in and popped open, showering me with peanuts. I squealed.
Something very fast and very green – what the... Carlisle! – wooshed past my face and out the door, cackling angrily. I slipped on the nut-cluttered floor, struggling awkwardly to stay on my feet, as I rushed outside again to...
...do what exactly? Holy shit!
All I could see was a dizzying blur of arms and elbows and hands, all of them apparently belonging to Kiddo. He forcefully moved forward with these weird inward-turned steps, while Tom backed off, and helplessly tried to protect his face and chest with both arms. My agitated budgie whirled around them like a mad hornet.
Before I had blinked twice, my neighbor-slash-occasional-lover lay on the floor at the opposite wall of the staircase, curled into a ball and wailed: "Fuck, fuck, fuck..."
Kiddo hovered over him like the fucking 'Punisher' himself, breathing heavily.
And now? Rip him apart and burn the pieces? What the hell...!
I gaped at the mayhem before me, rendered speechless.
Carlisle eventually landed on Kiddo's head, where he started scurrying to and fro, thin like a needle and panting through his open beak, like he was close to a heart attack.
Kiddo didn't even seem to notice it. I saw him slowly raise his head, and our eyes met for a second, before the timer switch suddenly turned off the lights in the staircase. At the same time, a single flash eerily illuminated the scene through the roof window, followed by a distant thunder.
If this was a movie, I would have fired the damn jerk of a screenwriter for coming up with such a run-of-the-mill idea.
I hit the light switch when I heard Tom whine, "The crazy motherfucker broke my fucking nose!"
He had taken his hands off his face and was looking at them in disbelief. Blood ran over his mouth and down his chin, and dripped on his snow white sweater.
The sight of it dissolved my ossification. Suddenly, I was so angry that I could feel and hear my own heartthrob in my ears. I wanted to punch them both in face, but instead I just made a feeble attempt to throw the empty peanut pack at Kiddo and screamed, "Are you completely nuts? What the fuck is wrong with you?"
The little cellophane bag tumbled to the ground without even getting near him, but he stared at me as if I had stabbed him with a knife. Wide-eyed, he watched me kneel down next to the victim of his attack, and gasped.
I shifted my attention to Tom to examine his nose. "Stay the fuck still, Tom," I snarled at him.
He whimpered, "It's fucking broken, I can feel it..."
"Stop whining – God...! There's nothing broking," I assured him. "We just need to clean you up."
I looked up at Kiddo who still stood there like a rabbit hypnotized by a snake, and hissed, "You can make yourself useful and fetch me a towel... Jesus – what on earth were you thinking?"
Both his hands went up and straight into his hair where they gripped the blond streaks as if to toss them out. Carlisle took this as his cue to leave and fluttered up. Twittering huffily, he dashed back into my apartment, much to my relief.
Kiddo held on to his head like he was trying to prevent it from bursting. He slowly started to back off and croaked, "I'm sorry..." He sounded half strangled. After a few backward steps, he turned and moved down the stairs, almost running. The sound of his descending footsteps mingled with the noise of the onset of rain, pattering against the roof window. The front door slammed shut, and off he went.
Sure as hell, I'd fire that screenwriter!
"I will fucking sue that fag!" Tom mumbled, wiping his nose with the sleeve of his already ruined sweater.
In one second I was on my feet, glowering down on my humiliated neighbor. I heard the words fall from my mouth like they were spoken by someone else, "If you do that, Tom – I swear, I will testify that you attacked me on the threshold of my own apartment, and he came to defend me!"
I waggled my maltreated arm before his face; his fingers were visibly imprinted in my flesh, and red and violet bruises had begun to build at the verges.
"Home invasion, sexual harassment and bodily injury – you better think twice. Believe me, I mean it! And your nose is not broken. It's not even swollen. Go home and wash your face."
I didn't wait for an answer. I kicked the DVD across the floor towards him, turned on my heels and, once back in my hallway, slammed the door shut behind me.
Seems I really feel very protective of you, Kiddo. Even if you screw things up...
Thirty minutes later, after I had maneuvered my outraged budgie back into the safety of his cage and cleaned up the peanut eruption, I found myself sitting on the furthest left side of my leather couch, staring at the furthest right side, where the dotted backpack was leaning against the armrest.
Kiddo hadn't returned yet, and probably wouldn't. I remembered the shocked look in his eyes and how he literally had fled like a hunted deer. I shouldn't have screamed at him, but Jesus Christ – what had possessed him? He had seemed so gentle and vulnerable – I'd never thought he had it in him to go postal that way...
And I still couldn't believe he had actually floored bigmouth 'I-know-Karate' Tom! How had he done that anyway? He had moved so fast, almost invisible to the eye.
Vampire skills, huh?
Not that Tom didn't deserve it; he could be such an asshole at times. I guessed the era of 'friends with benefits' was finally over...
The thunderstorm had passed, but it was still raining pitchforks. The kitchen clock showed eleven p.m. He had most likely taken the last train – he wouldn't come back tonight.
I tore my eyes away from the pink and yellow dots and rose from the couch. Recalling my earlier needs, I thought it was probably a good idea to end this rollercoaster day with a hot bath. It was a perfect occasion to put my new herbal bubble bath Beatrice had recommended to a test. The blurb promised a relaxing effect – I sure as hell could use some of that.
I went to the bathroom and turned on the hot water faucet. As soon as the bathtub bottom was covered with water, I threw some of the green pearls into it, and went back to the couch – and the backpack. It was too tempting.
You know you shouldn't do that, Portman?
I knew. Curiosity killed the cat. But on the other hand, that ugly thing had bothered me from day one. Maybe it was time for it to pay back, reveal its secrets... ah, to hell with it!
I leaned forward, grabbed the backpack by its straps and pulled it onto my lap. I got a little excited when I unbuckled the top flap, eager to learn something about Kiddo.
The first thing that surfaced was a wadded up piece of black fabric. His hoodie. The poor boy must have been quite cold on his way to the train station. It was just a few minutes away, but still... Shaking my head, I laid it next to me on the couch.
Then there was something red and flat. I pulled it out to see: it was a notebook. Or a diary? My heart accelerated. Oh, this would really go too far... but I hadn't opened the box of Pandora just to see a hoodie. Certainly not. Just one look?
I persuaded myself that I would put it away as soon as it turned out to really be a diary, and flipped it open in the middle, at the last page written. I looked at Kiddo's elegant, even handwriting, and then I forgot to breathe...
Monday, Sept. 21
Her name is Annie.
She was flickering grey this morning, twice.
But the fishes were translucent.
Like I could brush them away
with my hands.
Or with my mouth.
She cares for me though she doesn't want to.
She was so funny when she gave me talking lessons
all bouncing in pink and yellow.
I was opened, unshielded,
like I haven't been in years,
like a beloved child,
like a violet lover.
I will talk to her tonight.
A few hours to embrace myself.
There will be truth tonight.
I stared at the page, unbelieving. What was that? A poem? About me? Obviously. And though I didn't understand a word, it sounded very... romantic. And totally nuts at the same time. Was he falling in love with me? Oh God...
Relax, Portman! It probably means nothing...
He had written it today. Did he also write something on Friday, about...? I slowly turned one page.
Sunday, Sept. 20
I haven't slept since Friday.
Today I told Law about The Woman.
He said, it had always been just a matter of time.
That there had to be someone, someday.
I didn't tell him what she did to me.
Or what I did to her.
I just told him about the cracks and the wave.
He advised me to find The Woman and talk to her.
I said that I'm afraid to talk to her,
that I'm afraid to find out I was wrong.
What if it wasn't her?
What if I just lost it and made things up?
Do I really want to know?
That sounded a lot less like a poem. Who the hell was Law? And he told someone about it? At least he seemed to have concealed the particular circumstances of our encounter. But 'the cracks and the wave'? What was that supposed to mean? Christ, this boy really had issues...
Before I could turn the next page, the backpack on my lap suddenly and very actively called itself to my mind – it vibrated. Startled, I flipped the notebook shut as if caught in the act.
I hastily fumbled at one of the smaller flaps at the front, and turning up was a cell phone, blinking and buzzing. Kiddo had received a text message.
I stared at the flashing display, deliberating. Maybe it was him? He had noticed that his backpack was missing and now...
I pressed the menu button, and the display switched to show the sender.
It said: LAW.