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Pray For Us Sinners

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It’s not a terribly original story: after working for the company for twenty-odd years, the brass called me in on Friday and very gently said, “We thank you for your years of service, but unfortunately due to cutbacks…” Blah, blah, blah. You know the rest. Next thing I knew I was in the parking lot with a cardboard box, freezing my tits off trying to get the snow off my car and get the fuck out of there as fast as I could. Everyone had given me those pitying looks and a few kind words on my way out, and I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to cry and vomit or get shitfaced drunk. It ended up being both, but not in that order.

Now it is Monday and I’m off my weekend bender and looking for work. I’m at the mall, shopping for a new job because if I don’t get one, and soon, they’re gonna cut my power and my heat off and then I’m well and truly fucked. I can’t survive an Omaha winter like that. I will take any position available. I lost any sort of vanity and pride years ago, probably around the time my body started to betray me. It’s one of life’s cruel jokes that a woman’s beauty fades with age while men seem to get better looking. No wonder they fuck twenty-two-year olds.

At least, my ex-husband did, but he never was very original.

I worked at Sears when I was a teenager, about a thousand years ago, and I have people skills, so I try a clothing store first. I shouldn’t be surprised when the twenty-something girl at the counter gives me a quick up-and-down glance and tells me they’re not hiring right now. It still stings, though, because I can see from the way she looks at me that I am the wrong shape, that my skin is not fresh, that my hair is not shiny. I can’t really blame her—I am old and I am tired. I do not look the part. I move on.

Payless isn’t hiring and neither is Bath and Body Works. I walk by the Kay Jewelers without a second glance because I picked out my engagement ring at that Kay years ago and the thought of serving happy couples and men buying off their wives makes me want to burn the mall to the ground.

I need coffee. Lots and lots of coffee, and maybe something sweet. The Cinnabon is two stores up on the left and I walk there on a mission: I will sit and drink coffee and eat a thousand calories and think about my life and my choices and figure out how the hell I ended up an unemployed, divorced fortysomething with no marketable skills. I will sit there as long as it takes for me to figure out why my life is so fucked up and depressing. I will keep buying coffee, because it is rude to loiter, and when I walk out of that Cinnabon I will have a renewed sense of self and purpose.

I can figure this out. I can fix this. But I need some fucking coffee first.

The two girls working the counter look young enough to be in my niece’s homeroom but they are very sweet—all smiles and “can I help yous” and “can I get you anything else todays.” Kind eyes, no judgment, and yet I’m angry. I’m angry because they have their lives ahead of them and their skin is fresh and glowing with youth. I’m angry because they have a job and I do not, and I need that job more than they do. I catch myself starting to scowl and I stop, because none of that is their fault, and none of it is fair. I force a smile as one of them rings me up and the other brings me my coffee and roll. I take a seat at the very back of the store, in the corner. I need to hide for a while.

When he comes out of the back I see him out of the corner of my eye but he doesn’t register. I’m deep into my own thoughts now—a dangerous place to be—and I’m remembering all those stupid office birthday celebrations I planned and all the memos everyone ignored. In the end, none of it mattered. I did not matter. I was redundant at best, useless at worst. Twenty fucking years of uselessness. I finish my cinnamon roll much faster than I should and decide to order another one.

I finally see him then, blending some way-too-sweet coffee drink at the counter. He looks as displaced as I feel, and my first thought is that he is far too old to be working here. Then I remember that I just got rejected at Forever 21 and I put the brakes on my judgment. I don’t know him. I don’t know his life. I only know that he does not look at me, just glances side to side. I think he must be searching for one of the girls to wait on me so he doesn’t have to. It pisses me off, and I don’t try to hide it.

“Excuse me,” I say, and he doesn’t answer. I can hear the bitch rising in my voice as I repeat myself. “Excuse me, sir?”

The blender whirs to a stop and he looks up at me through his glasses. He’s startled and I’m immediately sorry.

“Sorry,” he says, “couldn’t hear you.” He gestures at the blender with his head and a thin wisp of hair falls across his brow.

He gives me a half smile that is very sad and I realize that I am an asshole. I’m really and truly an asshole. My cheeks are red as the devil, I can feel it, and I forget why I came to the counter in the first place. Then I remember: the second Cinnabon, but now I’m embarrassed to order it. It’s not like this man is some sort of fine physical specimen. He looks like he could put away a few rolls himself, and yet I simply cannot order from him. He probably never even saw me with the first one, but if I know one thing at this moment it is that there is no way in nine circles of hell that I’m ordering another one.

“Large coffee, please. Black, no sugar.”

He smiles for real this time and says, “You sure you don’t want to try a Tropical Blast Chillata? A little taste of summer on this winter’s day?”

The sarcasm is deadly, and now I’m intrigued.

“No, thank you...” I lean in and look at his nametag. “…Gene.”

I flash him a smile that skirts the edge of coquettish—a smile that says, “amuse me”—and I wait. Who are you, Gene? Are you bored and tired and angry? Are you as lonely as I am? What are you going to do about it?

“You know,” he says, and he leans in like we’re conspiring, “if you bring me your cup over there, I might be able to swing some free refills. I’ve got some pull around here.”

“Is that so?”

He nods and I say, “Well then, I’d better go get it.”

I make sure my ass sways a bit as I walk away—nothing too obvious, noticeable yet respectable. I don’t know if he is looking but he might be and I realize that I want him to. It feels almost foreign, this wanting to be wanted. I thought I’d given up completely and I was mostly okay with that. But of all the people on God’s green earth, why Gene the Cinnabon manager with the weird mustache and the thinning hair and the look of a man who got kicked in the dick by life? I almost laugh at the grotesque absurdity of the whole thing. Laughter is all I have left.

I turn around with my cup in hand and I catch him staring. He looks down quickly and pretends to do something at the register but he knows that I know. It feels nice to brush the cobwebs off and play this little game again. I used to be a pretty decent flirt, back when my ass was about five inches higher and I could wear skirts for more than five minutes without getting chub rub. I make sure to catch his eye on my way back to the counter.

“Here you go, big shot,” I say. “Impress me.”

When he takes the cup from me I notice that he has very large hands, which is something that I very much like, so I end up staring at them while he fills my cup. He has no wedding ring but there’s a phantom ring on his pinky finger; it’s slightly misshapen, like it had grown up around a ring that didn’t fit anymore. I should stop staring but his hands are veiny and he may actually have a decent butt under his khakis. I force myself to look at literally anything else, finally settling on the case of fresh rolls next to the register.

My name is scrawled on the cup in a girlish cursive. I know he’s seen it when I hear him chuckle. I sigh and curse my parents. This same old routine.

I say the same thing as always: “Yes, it’s my real name. It’s Italian. And it’s SAHN-TA not SAN-TA.”

“Your name is really Santa? It that short for something or-”

“Nope. I have my incredibly Catholic Italian parents to thank for a lifetime of these fun little conversations.”

“Sorry,” he says, but I can tell he isn’t and it’s surprisingly endearing. “But, hey, if that’s the worst thing your Catholic parents did to you, you should consider yourself lucky.”

I look at him, studying him. His eyes are a sad shade of blue. “Irish?” I ask.

“Guilty as charged.”

I smile. There aren’t a lot of lapsed Catholics in Omaha. This is Bible country, land of the Megachurch. There’s no room for us sinners except in the patronizing prayers of our neighbors. I wonder how much of a sinner Gene is, and what his favorite sins are. I wonder if he is beyond redemption. I wonder if I am, too.

“You enjoy that, on the house,” he says, “Santa.”

He takes his time with it and pronounces it correctly. It sounds strangely lovely from his mouth.

“Thank you, Gene.”

We smile at each other and I walk back to my table. It should be over now—just a small exchange, something to make our respective days a little more interesting, but ultimately forgotten as soon as it’s over. It doesn’t feel that way, though. I’m very conscious of him moving about the store as I sit and pretend to focus on my crossword puzzle. I steal glances at him, observing him in pieces: a hairy forearm here, a sweat-slicked sideburn there, the slight wince when he lifts something heavy, the large hands kneading an endless supply of dough.

How did you get here, Gene? Why do you stay?

I take a certain amount of pleasure in the routine way he tends to the other customers. There is none of my Gene in those transactions—just a bored civility and a blank but kind expression. Occasionally he stares out at the mall crowd, like he’s looking for something or someone, but it doesn’t last long. We catch eyes a few times and exchange awkward smiles.

When my phone buzzes I see the time and realize that I have been sitting in a mall Cinnabon for three hours and I still have no job and no fucking clue what to do with my life. The text is from my mother, because who else would it be from?

Sunday dinner this week? Babbo and I miss you and you know how we worry.

I can almost smell the guilt trip through the screen. Yes, I know how they worry, which is why I did not tell them that I got laid off and why I’m not planning on it. I can only imagine the dramatics at the dinner table—my dad sitting with furrowed brow at the head of the table while my mother wails over the lasagna, clutching fistfuls of hair and crying out to Saint Jude, the patron of desperate cases, to please save her fuck-up daughter from eternal damnation. I start and delete a few responses and give up.

I forget I’m in public, as I often do, and say “fuck me” a little too loud. Gene is sweeping up nearby and he hears me. I need to leave this Cinnabon immediately but I can’t bring myself to move and now he’s walking over to me and touching the chair across from mine.

“Do you mind?” he asks.

I start to gather my things because I think he must be trying to clean the table. I am most definitely in his way now. I’m just another loiterer, and loitering is a sin. Idle hands and all that. Leave it to me to sin in a Cinnabon.

“I’m so sorry,” I say. “I’ll get out of your way.”

“No, no,” he says. “I was wondering if I could sit with you for a minute. I’ve got bad knees. Need to get off my feet for a bit.”

I don’t know what else to say, so I just say, “Oh.”

I can feel how awkward I am. I am embarrassing myself. I am red and blotchy and twitching from too much caffeine. But he’s sitting now, and through my racing thoughts I hear him ask if I’m having a rough day.

“That depends,” I say. “Do you know any place that’s hiring right now?”

He thinks about it for a minute—really, actually thinks about it—but he says no and I can feel my face fall.

“That’s what I figured,” I say. “It’s pretty rough out here these days.”

“You get laid off?” he asks. Just like that, no bullshit. I like it.

“Yup. Twenty years and they didn’t even give me a heads up. Nice, right? It’s like loyalty doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

“Yeah,” he says, and his voice is soft and sad. He looks away and runs his thumb across the underside of his pinky finger. There is something in that subconscious gesture—some long-buried pain, some guilt, some unforgivable sin. Who betrayed you, Gene? Who were you loyal to?

He turns back to me. “Well, it’s their loss, right?”

I shrug. “I guess, but I’m still fucked in every hole unless I find some work.”

“Hey, watch the potty mouth,” he says. “This is a family-friendly establishment.”

“Sorry,” I reply. “Allow me to rephrase that. While I appreciate the sentiment, Gene, if I don’t find gainful employment soon, I am going to run out of money and possibly freeze and/or starve to death. Is that version more child-friendly?”

He laughs. It’s a loud, funny laugh—like he’s saying HAHAHA, but with feeling. His face changes, too, gets lighter somehow.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I shouldn’t laugh. I really do wish I could help you.”

I can’t stop the words coming out of my mouth. It’s like one of those out-of-body experiences the Pentecostals are always blathering on about.

“You can help me by having a drink with me tonight,” I say. “I’m tired of drinking alone.”

He starts to turn red and he’s flustered and I instantly regret it. I apologize for being so forward and ask for his forgiveness. I have stained him with my sin—my idleness and licentiousness—and I am repentant. He just sort of stares at me as I grab my purse and coat, not saying anything, and I really have to go now because I feel foolish and I can’t take one more ounce of rejection. I’ve got my eyes on the door when I hear him clear his throat.

“I’d like that,” he says. “I’d really, really like that.”

Chapter Text

I try not to look at women at work, at least not the way I used to look at them. When I look at a woman, I see the way she sees me. I project all my bullshit onto her, which is ridiculous and unfair, and all it does is depress me even more. Trying to talk to a woman is even worse because I never feel more unlike myself than when I get choked up and the words don’t come. I don’t have the words anymore. I never shut the fuck up and they ran out. I used them all up and now I’ve got nothing left to say.

But occasionally there’s a girl—and I say girl not because she’s young. I’m not a kiddie-diddler. That shit makes me sick and those fuckers should rot in hell. I say girl because she makes me feel the way I used to feel around girls when I was a kid. That high you get from a crush, that youthful bravado, that feeling that you are the most charming guy in the room and how could she not want you.

That’s how I feel when I see her sitting in the back of the store. My first thought is that she has good hair—thick, brown hair I’d like to run my fingers through. Maybe I’m just jealous. My hair has one foot out the door. The most striking thing about her, strange as it may be, is that she looks tired—like she’s been through some real shit and reached her breaking point. I know that look: the face of defeat. I feel like I understand her before she says word one to me.

For the first time in a long time, I feel like I have balls. I can talk to this woman, charm her. It might feel nice and brighten up my day a bit to feel like myself again, even in some small way. It might brighten hers up, too. At least, I hope so.

For all the time I spend sneaking looks at her, I have to be making a goddamn Chillata when she finally comes up to the counter. Some fucker orders a frozen drink in the middle of winter and I have to get on that piece of shit blender. Of course I don’t hear her. When I look up I see the face of a truly pissed-off woman—another look I know well.

Not a great start, but I try to smile. I’m flustered, though, and it takes a second before I can explain myself—it’s the blender, that fucking blender. She understands and I’m thankful. I hold my breath until she orders, thinking “sweet Christ please do not order a Chillata.” And she doesn’t, bless her. Black coffee, no sugar—the easiest thing in the world to do. I like her more now. I want to please her.

Quick, think of something. Make it good. A Chillata joke? Am I really doing this? I am. Please laugh.

She doesn’t, but when she leans in to read my nametag I can smell her perfume and it’s nice—a little musky, some floral notes, good for winter. She smiles and I think that maybe she hates Chillatas, too. She looks at me and I think it’s some sort of dare and I’m up for it. Christ knows why, but I’m up for it. I wonder what I have to offer that she could possibly want.

Play it cool. You got this. Free refills. Yeah. Who doesn’t like free refills?

I lean into her and I can’t believe I’m actually pulling this off, and before I know it she’s walking away. Her ass is mesmerizing and I get caught looking. I put my head down fast but I know she saw me. She’s smiling, though. She knew what she was doing.

Naughty girl.

She calls me big shot, tells me to impress her, and Christ do I want to but I don’t remember how. I’m trying to think of something, anything, when I see her name scrawled on the cup. I laugh even though it’s not really all that funny and I instantly regret it when I see her face, because how fucking unoriginal am I? I can only imagine growing up with a name like “Santa.” I suddenly want to beat the living shit out of every guy that ever made fun of her or asked to sit on her lap.

Then she tells me how to pronounce it and it’s actually quite lovely—it’s got character, it’s old school, like those boys that used to run around Cicero in the 70s with names like Giuseppe and Vincenzo. And, fuck me, she’s Catholic, and Catholic girls are my kryptonite. Not in a “I wanna fuck you in the uniform” kind of way, but because they know what its like to grow up being told that everything you do and everything you think is wrong and that you’re gonna burn in hell for it. She’s fucked up, she’s gotta be, and good Christ so am I.

I am paying for my sins now. I wonder if she is, too.

And then she’s gone, back to her table, lost in her thoughts. I wonder what she’s thinking about and if she’s already forgotten about me. It’s hard to work when she’s there. I go through the motions but I’m embarrassed to have to do this job in front of her—to wipe counters and knead dough and sweep the fucking floors. How does so much shit end up on the floor, anyway? Do people lack a fundamental understanding of the purpose of a garbage can? It pisses me off, like people who leave their trash in the movie theater. Clean up after yourself. Christ.

I get through it using a technique I’ve honed over a lifetime. I carry out my work routine in a state of complete detachment. I am somewhere else, someone else. Right now I am not in an Omaha Cinnabon. I am in a courtroom, wearing a freshly pressed suit. I am dazzling. I am magnetic. I am righteous. The jury loves me. The judge loves me. Other people love me, too.

I come back to earth when I hear her cursing. It was loud, too loud for public consumption here in the heartland, and when I look at her she clearly knows it. It occurs to me in that moment how tired my body is. My knees are about to give out, my back is a knotted-up nightmare, and my feet are swollen in my shoes. I decide this is my moment.

Just fucking do it. Jesus.

“Do you mind?”

When she looks at me she’s horrified and I feel that sharp pang of rejection. Then she apologizes I feel even worse because she thinks I’m kicking her out and that’s the last thing on God’s green earth that I want right now.

Think of an excuse, dammit. Oh fuck it. Just tell her the truth.

I sit down, because she doesn’t say no, but she looks uncomfortable and I feel like maybe this was a bad idea. She looks like she’s had a day, though, so I ask about it. Women like that, right? When you ask about their days? It all makes sense when she tells me she’s out of work. I want to help her. More than anything I want to help her. I want to fire one of the teenyboppers behind the counter and give her a job on the spot, except I don’t really because the girls are good kids and they are working to pay for college. It also happens to be textbook wrongful termination. I used to care about shit like that, a few lifetimes ago.

It is clear she feels betrayed and abandoned, and that this probably isn’t the first time, and I’m drawn to her in a way I can’t explain. She makes me think about things I don’t want to think about. It’s not her fault. She doesn’t know the first thing about me, but something makes me feel like she would just accept it—like maybe I’m not the worst thing that’s ever happened to her.

She’s got a mouth on her, and I like that, and it makes me feel like fucking with her because I’m bored as hell and she needs a distraction. She makes me laugh—really laugh—and I need that because the list of things that bring me any sort of joy these days is basically nonexistent.

God, I wish I could help her. Wait… did she just? She did. Oh, shit, she did.

I can’t speak. I physically cannot speak because a pretty girl has asked me to drinks. I wonder who I’m even supposed to be if I go out with her. I’m sure she’s wondering who “Gene” is, but Gene doesn’t exist. Not really. Not in any meaningful way.

I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I should do this. But Christ do I want to. I can feel myself flush hot and the sweat start beading under my mustache. I hate this fucking mustache. I only vaguely hear her apologizing and by the time I get my shit together she’s pointed at the door.

I almost say, “please don’t leave,” but I say yes instead and she smiles.

She has a crooked tooth and her lipstick is the color of a tailored shirt I used to own. She looks like a spring day feels, and after she leaves, I ignore a customer to watch her until she’s completely out of sight. It’s worth it. I’ve always been an ass man. Some things never change.

I only have an hour after work to get myself presentable, although I don’t really know what that means anymore. I catalog the contents of my closet on the drive home and it depresses me, but actually looking at the clothes is even worse. Everything is just so drab, meant to blend in to the point of not being noticed at all. But I want her to see me. I pull out a corduroy blazer and wonder where it even came from. Pairing it with a turtleneck seems like something a guy named Gene would do, and I really don’t have anything else that’s clean, so the decision makes itself.

I take a shower and contemplate jerking off. I could certainly think of a few new scenarios but something stops me. It’s not that I don’t have enough time—I can get it done in a jiffy if need be—but it’s going to be weird enough being on an actual date, if that’s what this even is. I don’t need the added awkwardness of just having thought about her in various compromising positions. No, no jerking off. I’ll do it later, when she’s inevitably rejected me. I’ll have myself a nice sad wank. Maybe I’ll even light a candle. I hear sandalwood is relaxing.

I get dressed and look in the mirror and I almost laugh. Here I am, about to meet a pretty girl for drinks while wearing a blazer-turtleneck-khaki combo. None of it fits me correctly and I look like I just stepped out of a To Catch A Predator house in Fort Lauderdale. Fantastic. This should go well.

I fix myself a drink before I leave because if I don’t I’ll never make it out the door. I’ve been nervous before—life-and-death nervous, shitting my pants nervous—but this is pretty bad. I already feel guilty for agreeing to meet her. What do I have to offer her but lies? It’s not that I want to lie to her but I don’t have much of a choice, now, do I? So how does this go? We have a few drinks, I listen to her problems, tell a bunch of half-truths and flat-out lies and then… what? What’s the end game here? We make out? Fuck? Fall in love?

This is a huge mistake.

I leave early. Punctuality is a lost art.

Chapter Text

The last date I went on was a consummate disaster. It was about a year after my divorce, and one of my friends set me up with her husband’s coworker. All my friends were trying to set me up around that time, but I always felt like it was out of pity and not a genuine desire to see me happy. They are all married, and married people want everyone to be married because they have no time for single people’s problems.

His name was Derek and he was also a divorcée. That’s another thing about married people—they always assume that two divorced people will automatically get along, like we all have some sort of cosmic bond and the first thing we want to do on a date is talk about our past relationships. Derek was not ready to be dating. Not that I was, but he was very clearly still in that obsessive phase where every new person and experience is viewed through the lens of the dreaded ex. The ex is still haunting you and you carry them with you like a ghost. Every time he looked at me, it was clear I did not measure up.

Blind dates are ridiculous. Never again.

This date is not blind, if it even is a date. It’s been so long I don’t know if it counts. It’s just drinks, not dinner. Dinner is always a date; drinks can be anything. Drinks can be, for example, an excuse to go out and sleep with a man you just met. Of course I do not admit to myself that this may be what I want to happen. I’m not that kind of girl. My parents raised me right. That’s the devil talking and I must close my ears.

Still, I wear my tightest jeans and the lowest-cut sweater I own. It’s red—the color of hellfire, the color of sex—and it looks good on me, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of my wardrobe. I hesitate before painting my lips red to match. God forgive me my vanity, my lustful thoughts. I just want to look cute for a boy.

I take a cab to the bar because I already know that, whatever happens, I will be too drunk to drive myself home. I may have no job and no life and occasionally take solace in a bottle, but at least I’m still responsible enough to know my limits and when I’m going to cross them. I know more than most what drunk driving can do to people’s lives. It is far worse than anything else I might do tonight.

Gene is already there when I arrive. He is standing outside, waiting for me even though it’s cold. I think how sweet that is as he takes my hand and helps me out of the cab. Whatever his intentions, at least he knows how to act like a gentleman. I thank him kindly, because I can act like a lady.

This is a shithole bar. It is dark and smells like stale beer and hundred-year-old piss. I like dive bars, but this is a step beyond that. This is a bar for the sad and the desperate. This is a hideaway. This may actually be Purgatory. I fit right in, of course, but I wonder what it is about me that made him think that I would. I briefly wonder if he’s embarrassed to be seen with me, or if he wants to keep me a secret. I wonder what other secrets he’s keeping.

He removes his coat and he’s got on this blazer and turtleneck that reminds me of a college physics professor. Not that I went to college, but that’s what they look like in the movies and I assume someone did their research. It should look terrible but it doesn’t. It’s kind of cute, actually, with the glasses and the sad comb over. I think I appreciate his belly the most. I try to hide mine under certain styles and colors of clothes, but he has his turtleneck tucked right into his pants and he’s wearing a belt. He is letting it hang out there. I respect that.

He takes my coat from behind and I’m happy I wore these jeans and when I turn to look at him I get that feeling again, of being wanted. I know that we don’t know each other from Adam, that this feeling is lust, and that lust is supposed to be bad. But it doesn’t feel bad. It feels nice. It’s exciting and a little bit dangerous and as I follow him to a booth in the back I realize it’s exactly what I need right now.

The vinyl seating is cracked and half-ass mended with duct tape but the lighting in our booth is low. It will hide my crows feet and my second chin, at least for a while. He asks me what I’m drinking and I tell him vodka tonic with lime, and I watch him as he walks to the bar. I want to know things about him, intimate things that should in no way be discussed on a first date. I still don’t know if this is a date.

He returns with my drink and something brown for himself.

“Should we toast to something?” he asks.

I try to think of a clever one and come up short. “How about we toast to not drinking alone?”

He smiles and says, “That’ll work,” and then he clinks my glass.

We both take deep pulls from our glasses, buying time, because this is the tricky part of the game. I used to be a decent conversationalist but I am tired now, and I would give anything for him to speak first. He looks nervous, though, and more than a bit cautious. He is scanning the room, assessing things. What are you scared of, Gene? Is it me?

He talks first. Bless him.

“I apologize in advance for any stupid thing I say. I haven’t done this in a long time.”

He doesn’t want to call it a date, and that’s fine. I smile anyway and say, “Me neither.”

“That surprises me. A woman like you…”

He trails off and I wonder who he thinks I am.

“Well, the Omaha singles scene isn’t the greatest,” I say, “and trying to meet someone online is terrifying.”

“I stay away from the Internet,” he says.

“As you should. You should see some of the messages I get, and then there’s the pictures.” I shake my head, thinking about all the unwanted dick I’ve seen and every time a man called me fat for rejecting him. “People are awful.”

He raises his glass and says, “truer words,” and then he takes a gulp. I do the same and I’m almost feeling it. Almost.

He takes charge then, which is nice, but there’s sort of an investigative quality to his questions. He’s charming, though, so I answer. I tell him the abridged, date-friendly version of my life, which is heavy on the early years and not so much the late ones. Yes, I was born and raised in Omaha. Yes, I went to Catholic school. No, no college.

I do not tell him why. There are things I will not talk about. I wonder if I’d lie if he asked me about them. And then he does, and I do, sort of.

“Nope, no kids,” I say, and I finish my drink faster than I should, partially because I need it and partially because I know he will stop this line of questioning and ask me if I want another. He does, and I do, and then he’s gone again.

While he’s at the bar I decide that it is my turn to ask questions. He’s successfully put it off this far, but when he comes back with a fresh round I know he knows his time has come. I thank him for the drink and squeeze my lime so hard it burns my chewed-up fingertips.

“My turn,” I say.

“Go easy on me,” he replies.

Not a chance. I ask him the question that’s been nagging at me since I first heard him speak: “So, are you from Chicago? Because you sound exactly like someone I used to know and he was from Chicago.”

I do not tell him this person was my ex, and I do not tell him that his voice is half the reason I am sitting here. Maybe I’m a masochist, or maybe I just really like the accent. Either way, I know he’s lying when he says no.

“Bullshit,” I say.

He pauses. He knows he’s caught. Why are you lying, Gene? Who are you hiding from?

“It’s not technically bullshit since I’m from outside Chicago.”

I let it slide because he probably has his reasons and I have already told my own lie, one that makes my stomach curdle around the vodka slowly burning there. We are both sinners, and there’s something oddly comforting about that.

I can’t stop myself, though. I keep pressing, even though I know what happens to the curious cat.

“Got any family back there?”

He looks away and tells me they are all dead. I believe him, because he has the face of a man who is truly alone in this world. Suddenly I feel like a piece of shit for ignoring my mother’s calls all day. I pledge that I will go to Sunday mass this week, have dinner with the family, play with my nieces and nephews and count all my blessings. I will stop thinking about what I don’t have and focus on the things I do. I will be grateful for the things God has given me.

“I’m so sorry, Gene.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he says. “It’s been a long time.”

My phone chooses to ring before he can change the subject. It’s my mother, again, and the guilt swallows me whole.

“I’m so sorry,” I say. “I have to take this.”

He nods and he seems okay with it, even though I know how horribly rude I am being. I pick up right before it goes to voicemail.

“Ciao mamma,” I say. “Hold on a sec.”

I cover the phone and tell him I’ll just be a minute. I take the call in the ladies room because I am the only woman in the bar.

Mamma is in a state, of course, because I have not responded to her all day. To my mother, more than four hours without contact means that I am absolutely, unequivocally dead in a ditch somewhere. I am surprised she hasn’t called the police yet, like the time when I was seventeen and lied about sleeping over at my friend’s house so I could go smoke weed with the boyfriend she didn’t know about.

“I hate when you don’t pick up your phone, cara mia,” she says. Her voice has that not-to-be-fucked-with tone that I hate and love at the same time. “We worry.”

“Yes, I know. I’m sorry. It’s been a busy day.”

I hear her click her tongue and I smile because I know exactly what her face is doing.

“You have to come this Sunday. I’m not taking no.”

“I will, Mamma. I promise. I’ve got to go. I’ll call you tomorrow. Give Babbo a kiss for me.”

There is a horrid squeal when the bathroom door opens and music floods in from the bar. A woman enters and smiles at me.

I can almost see my mother’s ears perk up. “What was that? Where are you? Santa, are you at a bar?”

“It was the TV, Mamma. I have to go. Ti amo.”

I hang up before she can ask twenty more questions and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. In the harsh bathroom light my eyes travel from one flaw to another. For a moment I forget that there is a man in a booth who is waiting for me. I see myself as my mother must secretly think I am—a fallen woman drinking alone in a bar, picking up men, sinning. But she would be wrong, because I only drink alone at home and tonight I am on a perfectly innocent, maybe-date with a man. I have to get back to him.

He is facing away from the bathroom door and when I come up behind him to apologize he startles.

“You’re a little jumpy,” I say. “Do I make you nervous?” I am definitely feeling the vodka now.

He smiles and says, “A little,” and it’s very adorable, so I decide to cut him a break. I will not ask him twenty questions. I am not my mother.

“You speak Italian?”

“My parents still speak it at home sometimes—mostly when they’re yelling about something. I know the basics, like how to make someone feel like complete shit over nothing.”

He laughs. I like that laugh. I want to hear more of it.

“Well,” he says, “Italian is a beautiful language to be berated in. My family stuck with English.”

“Simple, yet effective.” He laughs again and I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

“So,” he says. “Good talk?”

“Well, I got roped into Sunday family-fun day, which includes a mass, too much food, and a thousand questions about my life, or lack thereof. As a bonus, I got to lie to her about being in a bar to avoid the inevitably harsh judgment, and I’m pretty sure she didn’t buy it. Oh, and I haven’t told them about losing my job yet. So, yeah, good talk.”

“I’m sorry about that, by the way. I really wish I could help you.”

I can tell he is being sincere and I think that maybe he is a kinder man than I’m giving him credit for.

“It was a Hail Mary,” I say. “I don’t know what I expected.”

“Still,” he says, but he doesn’t finish his sentence, only his second drink.

He is way ahead of me and I decide to catch up, because I have no place to be in the morning and why the fuck not. I need a bit more liquid courage if this is going to get past the vaguely answered questions phase and into full-on flirting, because that’s what I came here for, isn’t it? To flirt with a man, and have him flirt back. To feel good about something and someone for the first time in a while.

Someone has put “Come On Eileen” on repeat on the jukebox and I do not notice because now I am drunk and everything he says is funny and interesting. He’s drunk, too, but not sloppy. In fact, his words seem to flow much easier with a bit of alcohol as lubricant.

This is fun. I’m having a good time. I’m glad we did this. I want to tell him all these things but I don’t because I’m afraid that if I acknowledge the moment it will end. He is in the middle of a story that sounds completely made up but I don’t care because his eyes are bright and he’s more animated than I’ve seen him before.

“So this meathead, this complete asshole, he’s just standing there, staring me down, nostrils flaring, and I’m saying to myself ‘is this guy really gonna fight me over a bottle of piss-warm Old Style?’ And the answer to that is yes, yes he was. And he knocked me on my ass, took the beer, and walked away. And that is the story of my first bar fight.”

I’m belly-laughing now, and when this happens it is not uncommon for me to snort. I’m really trying not to but it happens and he tells me that I’m cute. I can’t remember the last time someone said that to me. I know it has happened, that it used to happen quite a bit, but I had forgotten the rush of it—that moment of self-deprecation followed by disbelief, which sometimes ends in acceptance. I’m terrible at taking compliments but I accept this one from him.

Then, of course, I completely fuck things up. I do the thing I swore I would not do. It’s not entirely my fault. He asked me if I like Westerns and it slipped out.

“My ex-husband and I used to watch them all the time,” I say. It just comes out, like the most natural thing in the world. But now, and for all time, I am that woman who talks about her ex on the first date. And I’ve opened a door I didn’t want to open. I look at him and wait. What are you going to do here, Gene?

“My ex hated them,” he says, and he smiles like he knows what it’s like to be free of someone toxic.

“Well, you obviously have bad taste in women,” I say.

“Historically that has been true,” he says, and then he looks at me. “But I’m hoping to change that.”

All it took was one raised eyebrow—that was it—and now my body is tingling in bad places, forcing me to acknowledge that I want this man in ways I should not. I cross my legs. I bite down hard on my lip. I do all the things a Catholic girl does to subdue her urges, and all the things that Catholic boys like. I wonder if he is thinking what I am thinking. I want to reach out under the table and find out.

He clears his throat and I snap out of it only long enough for him to ask, “You wanna get out of here?”

“Fuck yes,” I reply.

We spill out of the bar and it’s cold on my drunk-flushed skin. I’m holding on to him, “for warmth,” I tell him. It’s not a complete lie, but I also don’t mind feeling the weight of his arm around my waist and the way his hand is drifting slowly downward.

“That’s my car there,” he says, and it stops me dead in my tracks.

“You’re not driving, Gene.”

“I’m fine, I just-”

“No,” I snap, and I stick my hand out. “Keys. Now.”

He throws his hands up. “Okay, okay. I won’t drive.”

He fumbles in his pocket for the keys and when he gets them out he drops them. He’s embarrassed now, and I feel bad, but I can’t tell him. Not now. Not when I have thoughts as impure as the ones I’m having, and a bright idea to go with them.

“Get in the backseat,” I say, and he looks at me like he doesn’t get it. Then he gets it, but he doesn’t believe it.

“Seriously?”

“Yes,” I say, “seriously. Do you have a problem with that?”

He smiles and it’s wicked. “Not in the slightest.”

The devil has got me now. The second the door closes I am on top of him and I’m kissing him. It’s obscene, really, and it’s sloppy as hell, but I don’t care. He doesn’t seem to care, either. We are both moving awkwardly, like two people who have forgotten how this works but are determined to remember, given time and patience.

I grab one of his hands and shove it up under my sweater and he moans “Christ” like he’s never touched a woman before. It takes him a minute to remember what to do with a breast in his hand, but when he does he’s like a maestro. He’s really got me going now, and when he decides his glasses are in the way and tosses them to the side I can’t help but reach down between us and squeeze him.

“Sweet Jesus,” I say, because it’s bigger than I’m used to.

And then he bites his lip and does the eyebrow thing again and all I can think about is how much I want this man to sodomize me in the backseat of this cheap sedan. I am going to hell for all of this, and gladly. I undo his belt and he looks at me, and he’s got that lustful guilty face—the kind you get when the only thing you want in the world is wrong but you know you’re going to do it anyway, and like it.

He’s got his hands on my ass and he’s squeezing it tight. “You don’t have to do this,” he says, but he wants me to. And I want to. And I tell him I want to.

When I get his cock free all I want to do is praise it every which way with my mouth. I tell him how pretty it is, how delicious it looks, how I want to feel every inch of it in my throat. I can tell he likes the things that I’m saying, from the way he’s repeating “oh my god oh my god” because he’s lost for other words. I wonder, if he could talk, what he would be saying. When I take him in my mouth, he hisses and curses and then he can’t speak words at all.

It won’t last long, which is probably a good thing, because it isn’t lost on me that I am giving a loud, sloppy blowjob in the parking lot of a bar. I don’t care, of course, because he’s got one hand in my hair and one down the back of my jeans and the car smells like sex and I really, really want to hear him come. And then he does and it is way too loud and that turns me on even more. I do not see his face but I can picture it twisted up and then slack as he lets out all that noise.

I swallow what I can, because it’d be rude not to accept this gift he’s given me. I lick my lips when I look at him because I’m a harlot and I want more.

“Kiss me,” he says, and I do. It is slow and soft and nice and my mind wanders a bit, as it tends to do. I wonder how on earth I’m going to take confession on Sunday and I start to laugh.

He freezes up. “What’d I do?”

“Nothing,” I say, and I’m still laughing, but I’m trying to get it together and explain how I can be thinking about church with his come drying on my chin. “I’m just fucked up is all. I swear that this is not a thing that I do regularly.”

He looks relieved and says, “Well I’m sure as hell glad you did it tonight.”

“Me too,” I say, “but if I burst into flames at church on Sunday it’s on you.”

He laughs and calls me his fallen angel. I laugh and tell him he has come in his mustache. All in all, it is a decent night on the town. He calls me a cab and I ask him to please take one too. He promises that he will, and I really hope he isn’t lying, because I have decided that I really like Gene and that the only bad thing that should happen to him is me.

 

Chapter Text

I’m freezing my nuts off outside the bar, waiting for her. She’s not late yet. There’s no need to worry, and yet I’m already convinced she’s not coming—that she realized on the way home that she had made a horrible mistake asking some freak to drinks and saying yes to this shit bar I picked. I rarely leave the house except to go to work and run errands, but one night not too long ago I felt like I was suffocating in that place. I had to get out, so I just drove around until I ended up here. It is the type of place a man can hide away and drink and not be bothered. It reminds me of a broken-down version of a place I used to know. I feel as comfortable here as I can feel anywhere.

It does not occur to me that she might not care for it until I’m standing outside waiting for her. Now I almost wish she would stand me up because she belongs somewhere better than this. I see a cab pull up and I strain my eyes to see inside.

Is that her? It might be her. It’s definitely her. Fuck. Okay, here goes nothing.

I get the door, because it seems like the chivalrous thing to do, and when I reach for her hand she gives it to me without hesitation. She manages to get out of a cab gracefully in a heavy winter coat, which I find impressive, and we rush inside out of the cold.

I just assume she is following me when I walk to the back booth. It’s where I sat last time and I’m grasping for something familiar because I kind of can’t breathe and I don’t want to look at her face just yet. I don’t want to see her react to this place. I throw my coat in the booth and I finally turn to look at her. She doesn’t look completely disgusted so I offer to take her coat.

Christ, the things I would do to that ass.

I stop myself because I need to be the best version of me, not the perverted sonofabitch or the selfish prick. I need to be charming. I need to be funny. I need a fucking drink.

I take her order and head to the bar. She is drinking vodka tonight, and I think about joining her, but I need to feel that burn you can only get from well scotch. I used to drink Lagavulin and Macallan and Johnny Blue. Even if I had the money for that, this bar doesn’t have anything of the sort and I don’t feel worthy of it anyway. Those are drinks for powerful men, successful men, men who know they will leave a legacy. I will leave this earth with nothing and no one. My name will be remembered in infamy, if it is remembered at all.

When I return to the table and place her drink down she smiles and thanks me, and I realize I have no idea what I am going to say. All I can think of is that we should toast to something, but I haven’t the foggiest idea what that something would be. She saves me from myself and I like her idea because, as nervous and awkward as I know I am right now, it really does feel good to be with another human being.

I try not to stare at her tits—I really do—but I just can’t help myself. She’s wearing a small, gold cross and it’s dangling at her breastbone, and that should not turn me on but it does because I’m a fucking pig and because it seems like an arrow pointing straight down, begging me to look places I shouldn’t.

I am talking now because if I don’t look her in the eyes I’m bound to get slapped, and the only thing I can think to do is apologize. I probably will say something stupid because I can’t remember how to talk to a woman, and I might as well tell her I haven’t been on a date in a while, though I don’t use that word. It kind of goes without saying but I want to be honest about some things.

She tells me she hasn’t done this in a while either and I believe her but I can’t imagine why not. She doesn’t seem shy. To be fair, there are a lot of grade-A creeps out there, and I’m not entirely sure I’m not one of them. Maybe she’s just cautious. Or maybe she’s just been burned one too many times. Regardless of the reason, it’s a real shame. I find myself wondering how long it’s been since she’s been laid, and if she’s desperate enough to sleep with a guy like me.

Don’t be such a scumbag. Jesus.

I have to stop thinking about all the things I would like to do to her, because I really do want to know her. I start to ask her basic things and it sort of feels like I’m in discovery, that this is information I need to build my case. I don’t know if she’s guilty or not but I want her to be, at least in some small way. I am the most charming version of myself and I’m able to get the facts, and a few laughs out of her while I’m at it.

Here’s what I know: she is an Omaha native, third-generation Italian with old-school parents. She is the oldest of three: a brother (Tommy) and a sister (Donna), both married with children. She went to Catholic school the whole way through. No college. No wedding ring. No kids. From the look on her face and the way she pounds her drink, it’s clear that I should not have asked that last question.

Don’t fuck this up goddammit.

She’s empty and so am I, so I’m happy to head to the bar and hit refresh on the whole thing. I know she’s going to start grilling me when I get back, and it’s only fair that I let her, but I have no idea what the hell I’m supposed to say. The bartender is taking his sweet-ass time, which is actually a good thing because I can use that time to think about the lies I’ll inevitably tell her. It’s a scam, sure, but it’s well intentioned. I just hope that no one gets hurt. I know only two things I have to say for sure: I have never stepped foot in New Mexico and I’m not a fucking lawyer. At least one of them is true.

I can’t help but smile at her as I walk back to our table because she is a fine-looking woman and I’m lucky she even wants to talk to me at all, much less get to know me. I decide I will be as honest as I can be given my current predicament. It doesn’t have to be all lies all the time and I’m too tired to keep track of them these days.

Then she surprises me, and not in a good way. I know I have an accent. There’s nothing I can do about it, but no one has ever pointed it out since I’ve been in Nebraska. It’s not an uncommon one in the Midwest, but it is fairly specific. And now I’m caught because she is too perceptive for her own damn good. She knows, but I lie anyway. I have to.

Please God just let it go.

But of course she doesn’t, because she is quick and she’s curious and I realize this was a very, very bad idea because I don’t want to tell her lies. I’ve told so many lies in my life, my whole life is a fucking lie, and I’m tired of it. So I tell the truth, and it feels good—dangerous, but good.

I can’t think about family long enough to tell lies about them. I just can’t do it, so I’m absolutely tickled when her phone rings and saves my ass. She feels bad, I can tell, so I smile and nod at her because she has nothing to feel bad about. I get to hear a bit of that gorgeous accent and I’ll have a minute or two to get my shit together while she plays the dutiful daughter on the phone.

While she’s gone I’m very conscious of being alone, which is strange because this is precisely the type of place men go to be alone. Well, that and it’s far enough outside of town to take a sidepiece with minimal worry that the wife will find out. It’s cash only, so no credit card statements to track, and the clientele aren’t the chattiest group. It’s safe in the way that a rundown shit shack in the woods is safe—you can hide there, if you can stand it.

I try not to look at the old guy at the bar. He was here last time. He’s probably always here. He reminds me of someone I don’t want to think about, but I can’t help it because that man deserved better than he got. At least I made it out alive, if this counts as a life.

She scares the shit out of me when she comes back and I remember where I am and what I’m supposed to be doing. I try to play it off cute, with a smile, and—bless her heart—she buys it. I don’t want to talk about me anymore. I’m sick of myself.

Compliment her. Charm her. Get her talking again.

By the grace of God, and some help from the alcohol fairy, I’m pulling it off. It doesn’t hurt that she’s easy on the eyes and has a very calming way about her. I don’t know her at all, not really, but she puts me at ease. I start running my mouth and, to my credit, not everything is a lie. It feels good to make her laugh, and it feels even better to reach the point in this drunken flirtation where I no longer feel guilty about ogling her.

I can tell she doesn’t mind it. She’s inviting it, even, because she’s doing that thing women do when they cross their arms under their breasts and push them up and out like they’re serving them up on a silver platter. I wet my lips in a way I shouldn’t and hope she didn’t notice.

Change the subject. Books? Music? Movies? Movies.

I ask her if she likes Westerns—a fairly innocuous question, to be fair—but I’ve managed to fuck up again because I’ve stumbled into some unexpected territory here and now she’s uncomfortable. She slipped up and now she’s opened a door and she’s looking at me, silently begging me not to walk through it. The only thing I can think to do is to make it clear that I don’t give a flying fuck that she’s divorced with an ex running around somewhere, because I’ve got a few to spare myself. It’s better this way. At least I know she’s used to shattered expectations.

I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve those big, brown fuck-me eyes and the body language that says I can have all of her if I want it. But I do want it. I really fucking do, and I’m drunk and I’m horny as hell for a woman’s touch and good Christ is she gorgeous. I see my moment and I grab it by the short-and-curlies.

“You wanna get out of here?”

She answers before I can regret it. “Fuck yes.”

If it wasn’t so cold out I would already have an erection because she’s got her arm up under my coat and she’s letting me paw at her like the big, dumb animal I am. And then I fuck it up again. I know I’m too drunk to drive. In my heart of hearts I know it, but I just want to get her into bed or onto a couch or any fuck-worthy surface I can find and I don’t know what else to do. But she’s dead serious by the look in her eye, and pissed off, too, which is fair. There are some laws that should never be broken. I start to stutter a bit and drop my keys for good measure.

Well there that goes. Nice job, asshole.

I’m expecting a look of disgust when I hand my keys over, like she’s seen through all the bullshit to my inner scumbag, but she’s full of surprises, and this one is the best by far. I pretend I don’t get it, because part of me can’t believe it, but the other part doesn’t give a shit and that’s the part that always wins. It is, quite simply, an offer I cannot refuse.

It’s absurd, really. I’m in the back of my shitty car, in the parking lot of a shitty bar, with a pretty girl grinding on my lap and kissing me like I haven’t been kissed in ages. I’m beyond rusty at all of this but she’s patient with me because for some ungodly reason she actually wants me. I want to give her what she wants, and probably more, but I let her do whatever she feels like doing because I’m terrified that one wrong move and I’m done for.

It’s all I can do not to come in my pants when she shoves my hand under her sweater, and for a minute I have to think of something else. Her breast is heavy and warm in my hand and I think about kneading dough—those endless fucking supplies of dough—but that’s not doing her any good so I just go for it, praying I don’t end this whole thing prematurely. I take my glasses off because I need to bury my face in those sweet tits of hers and I don’t want to scratch the shit out of her in the process. I hope to God I’m doing this right—that she likes the way my tongue feels and that the noises she’s making aren’t fake.

When she grabs my dick I know that they aren’t. She wants it. She wants me. That would have been enough for me. I would have been happy with that, but she’s not nearly finished. I watch her as she gets my belt undone and I almost feel bad. This woman deserves a 5-star hotel fuck, with champagne and caviar and all that crap, but instead I’m groping her ass in the backseat of my car, waiting for her to suck me off.

I tell her she doesn’t have to do it, and I really do mean it, but she makes it more than clear how absolutely fine she is with all of this. Some of the shit coming out of her mouth is beyond obscene and she knows it, and I can barely speak because if there’s something I appreciate, it’s a filthy-talking woman who knows what she wants and how to get it.

The second she touches her tongue to the tip, I know I’ve got about a minute, minute and a half tops before I blow. She’s hungry for it, and she’s good at what she’s doing. It’s messy and loud and I like it like that. She’s on her knees on the seat next to me and I can’t stop myself from shoving my hand down her pants and grabbing a big ol’ handful of ass. She moans when I do it and I bury my other hand in her hair—gently, because I don’t know if she likes it pulled and I can’t form the words to ask her.

I come too loud. I know I am coming too loud while it’s happening but this is, unequivocally, the most enthusiastic blowjob I have ever received and I can’t bring myself to care how I sound or how I look. She did this to me. She can’t blame me for it. I don’t know why it surprises me that she swallows me down and licks every last drop off my dick but it does. Not that I care either way, but there’s something twistedly intimate about it that really revs my engine. I tell her to kiss me, because I’m a complete narcissist and I want to taste myself on her lips. It’s a good kiss, much better than before, and I lose myself in it until she starts to laugh.

Naturally I assume she’s laughing at me. I am a joke now, after all. Or maybe someone is playing a game with me, sending her here to fuck with my head before they come put a bullet in it. I’d deserve it, too. That’s the worst part.

Please God let her be real.

And I think she is. Even better, I think she may be just as, if not more fucked up than I am. Well, maybe not more, but she’s the kind of woman that will give head in a parking lot wearing a cross and then laugh thinking about confession. If I had a type, that would be it.

I still lie to her, though. I have no intention of taking a cab home. I have to be at the bakery at the ass-crack of dawn and it’s already almost one in the morning. But I won’t drive. I’ll keep that promise to her, partly because it’s the right thing to do and but mostly because I just busted my nut and couldn’t keep my eyes open if I tried.

I decide to sleep in the car, knowing it’ll murder my back and I might actually freeze to death. I don’t give a single shit, though, because when I asked if I could see her again, she said yes and told me I owed her an orgasm. That’s a debt I’m more than happy to pay—a nice, warm, happy thought to get me through the two hours of shit sleep I’ll get before I’m sober enough to drive home.

Then I’ll start another day as Gene, the esteemed manager of Omaha’s finest Cinnabon. It’ll be the same old routine as each day that’s come before it, but with one important difference. Now I have something to look forward to instead of always looking back.

Chapter Text

It is Saturday night and I should be cataloguing my many sins to ready myself for Sunday Mass. Skipping the confessional is not an option, not with Mamma Maria breathing down my neck, so I decide the only realistic choice is to tell the priest a series of lies by omission. It is something I am good at, and I’ve been doing it for years.

Confession time: I have never been a good Catholic. It could be argued that, before puberty, I was a passable one, but even that is a stretch. I have always entertained wicked thoughts, I have always been a liar, and I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t just going through the motions for the sake of my parents. I have always tried to be good with God out of fear, not from any genuine sense of devotion.

It’s not that I don’t have faith in something larger and more powerful than myself—I do, and I believe that all of us will answer for the bad things that we do. In my heart I feel that some form of God is out there, watching me and shaping my life in ways I can’t see or control. I just don’t believe He cares all that much about the white lies I tell or who I’m fucking. I am well aware that when I step into that booth I am a fraud, but the difference these days is that I just don’t care. God can’t possibly judge me any harsher than I judge myself, and a priest is only a man whose opinion means nothing to me.

I remember very distinctly the abject terror I felt the night after I lost my virginity. It was a Saturday night, not unlike this one, and when I got home from my boyfriend’s house I ran up to my room and locked the door. I knew that the next morning I would have to take confession and I tried to make myself feel bad for what I’d done. Hours I sat there, losing sleep, but I couldn’t bring myself to regret it. No threat of eternal damnation was enough to erase the beautiful high I felt making love for the first time—and even though we were seventeen it was lovemaking, not fucking. We did truly love each other, in the way that young people do.

He left Omaha a long time ago and, if Facebook is any indication, he is happily married to a pretty lady and adores their three pretty kids. There is no question in my mind that he confessed that Sunday, and all the Sundays after it until the day we broke up and he went off to college. He repented for me and he lives a blessed life now. I don’t hold it against him. He was a good boy then and he’s a good man now.

I’m not afraid of confession anymore because lying has become routine. It’s just another bad habit I can’t break. I lie every single time someone asks me how my day is going or how I’m feeling. To tell the truth would not be socially acceptable. I give the obligatory “I’m great, thanks,” or sometimes an “I’m fine, and you?” but it’s all bullshit. I am not fine. I have not been fine in a very long time, and I wish that everyone would stop asking.

I feel terrible about plenty of things, and I have enough guilt stored up for a thousand years of confessions. I will be able to look and sound the part while rattling off various instances of bad behavior, because I do have regrets and they never leave me. But the list of things I don’t regret is growing. For instance, getting drunk and sucking a guy off in the backseat of his car or texting him the next day to tell him I want more. No, I don’t regret anything that happened with Gene. If anything, I’m grateful to him, because I have been in a very dark place for a very long time and Gene was there to save me when God was not. I can’t bring myself to find fault in that, nor do I want to.

So, instead of wallowing in guilt for my many sins, I am sitting in bed exchanging incredibly lewd texts with Gene. The whole sexting thing is a strange new world for me, but it’s fun and Gene amuses me. I think it puts him at ease to communicate like this because he seems more confident and comfortable with me. I can’t imagine him saying some of these things to my face, although I’d love it if he did.

As much as I’m enjoying our little back-and-forth, I really do need to get to sleep because I’ve got a big day tomorrow and I need to look like I have my shit together. He’s understanding and tells me he’s looking forward to dinner on Monday. I promise to cook him an edible meal and give him a full report on my inevitably disastrous family gathering. It takes me a while to fall asleep, as it always does, but tonight my mind is racing with thoughts of the things he wants to do to me—a vastly more enjoyable form of insomnia than my nightly inventory of poor decision-making. I wake up refreshed and ready to tackle the day.

As I rummage through the depths of my closet, looking for appropriate Sunday attire, I try and fail to remember exactly how long it has been since I went to church. It’s been a long time now, to my family’s great disappointment, but they will never understand what it’s like for me. At least, I hope they won’t. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, especially not the people I love most in this world.

When you lose a child, it is impossible not to be angry at God. I don’t care what anyone says or how blasphemous they might think I am. I’m not afraid or ashamed to say that when I lost my little girl, I did not pray for her immortal soul; I cursed God, told Him he could go fuck himself, because she was eleven fucking years old and she deserved better than He gave to her. All the good neighbors came round the house, bringing us food and telling me that God was testing us, that He had a plan for us, that this would all make sense one day.

Fuck them, too. Fuck them even harder.

Paul left me on what would have been Annemarie’s thirteenth birthday. He never was very good with timing. I don’t hate him, not completely. We had a lot of good years together, when we were all still a family. But Annie’s death broke him—not that it didn’t break me, too, but I have always been stronger than he is. For two years I did everything I possibly could to try and hold our marriage together, but if I’m honest it was over the moment that piece-of-shit drunk hit my baby with his pickup. Shitfaced at three-thirty in the afternoon on a weekday, driving through a neighborhood where kids play in the streets after school, where my daughter rode her bike in circles around our block. If I close my eyes I can still see the way her bike looked after, all mangled and twisted, with the basket torn off and one yellow tassel stained red.

No, my family will never understand what it feels like to go to church and be judged for having lost everything. They pity me and they vilify Paul, but to them I’m still damaged goods. Divorced. It’s practically a swear word. My parents wanted me to get an annulment on account of Paul’s infidelity, “so I could remarry and be happy and be right with God.” I even entertained the idea, not because I actually believe that remarrying without a church annulment is adultery, but because I wanted to purge myself of everything Paul.

I stopped the process the day the priest asked me if I’d done anything to cause my husband to stray—“if I was fulfilling my wifely duties,” is I believe how he put it. I wasn’t, of course. I had no desire to have sex with Paul after the accident, even those few times we were actually getting along. He left me alone with my grief even before he started fucking around. Why should I care about his physical needs when he didn’t care about my emotional ones? No, there will be no annulment. No more celibate old men asking me about my sex life and trying to place blame where it does not belong. I have no interest in remarriage anyway. My mother will just have to live with that.

These are the things I think about on my way to church, and it is strangely comforting to remind myself why I am about to go in there filled to the brim with sin and ready to lie through my teeth. None of it matters. It’s all pomp and circumstance. There will be no salvation for me, and I’m fine with that. All I need to do is get through it—the fake smiles, the false modesty, the crocodile tears, and the feigned penitence. It’s a cakewalk for me, and I execute it flawlessly. I can tell my mother is pleased.

“I’m so happy you came, cara mia,” she says afterwards, on the church steps. She chooses to ignore the way so many of the parishioners look at me as they file out the doors. “Meet us at home and bring your appetite!”

She pinches my sides and I want to scream but I just smile. I hate it when she does that, I hate it maybe more than anything else she does, but it’s gone on for as long as Sunday dinner has—which is to say, forever.

Sunday dinner is an age-old tradition, and we do things the same way that we always have. The women prepare the food while the husbands sit around and talk about “man things” like sports and home improvements and the best place in town to get a tune-up. It’s winter and the kids are restless indoors, running from room to room shooting pretend guns and fighting over old toys they don’t even like anymore. It’s controlled chaos, and it feels familiar, and as I lay the antipasto out on the platter the way my nonna taught me I realize that I am happy—in this particular moment, right now, I am happy. I try to cling to that feeling as the Grand Inquisitor approaches.

“I’m glad you took confession today,” Mamma says. “How long has it been?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I say, and I smile as softly as I can. “I did it today.”

I touch her cheek, the way she used to do to me when I was little—a comforting gesture that says, “I’m here and I love you.” I ask if the lasagna is in the oven, because I need to change the subject and quickly. My mother purses her lips but she lets me off the hook because I’m here and I’m helping and I look somewhat like myself for the first time in a while.

“Of course the lasagna is in the oven,” she says, and looks at me like I’ve asked her the world’s most insulting question. She inspects the plate I’m preparing and sighs. “More olives, for Babbo.”

She walks away before I can remind her that my father is supposed to be on a low-sodium diet, not that he would ever comply with such a thing. “A fate worse than death,” he’d called it, and he’d laughed because he actually believes that.

I hear Donna ask, “So, how’s work going?” from across the kitchen where she is chopping vegetables for the salad.

“It’s fine,” I say, but I can tell by her voice that she knows. She has this horrible gossipy friend who still works for the company. I should have known that bitch would rat me out. “Let’s talk about it later, okay?”

My sister is the only person in the world who knows how completely full of shit I am. She looks at me and nods—message received, over and out. Donna is younger but she’s always been wiser, and she sees everything. I decide I am going to tell her the truth after dinner. We will hide in the garage where we used to sneak cigarettes and I will tell her about everything, including Gene. She’ll get the PG-13 version, of course. There are some things no one else needs to know.

We are halfway through the pasta course when I realize that my entire family already knows I’ve been laid off. The dinner has been fairly quiet by our standards, and everyone seems to be holding back, but when I catch eyes with my father and he looks at me with that sad, pitying look, I know the cat’s out of the bag. I put down my knife and fork and stare daggers at my sister.

“Did you tell them?”

Donna looks at me. She’s still pretending. “Tell them what?”

“You know what,” I say, and I can hear the anger rising in my voice. I’ve come to expect betrayal, but not from her.

“I really don’t know.”

“You’re such a fucking liar, Donna.”

My mother yells “Basta!” and my nephews giggle. My angelic little niece turns to Donna and whispers, “Zia Santa said the F-word.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, but only to the children.

I’m about to lay into my sister again when my brother clears his throat and says, “It was me. I told them.”

Tommy is an asshole, but he’s my little asshole, and even though he’s a huge mamma’s boy, it still shocks me that he would violate our unspoken sibling pact: you do not tell mom and dad anything upsetting before we all talk about it. That’s always been the way. I can’t for the life of me understand why he would have done this.

“Thanks a lot,” I say, because if I say anything else I will dig myself even deeper.

I throw my napkin on the table and head to the upstairs bathroom. I can hear Tommy rationalizing as I walk away. He says he’s worried about me but I don’t believe him, not completely, because he’s still in a fantasy football league with my ex-husband and I know for a fact they have gotten beers a few times since the divorce. I forgave Tommy for that transgression, because he and Paul were close once, but this I can’t forgive. I sit on the toilet and run the water so I can drown out the muffled sound of panicked relatives.

I’m sure my mother is cursing me for ruining dinner, and praising Tommy for his honesty and concern, saying, “He’s such a good boy. He was only looking out for his fuck-up sister because she doesn’t have another man to do it for her. And poor Donna, how could she speak to you like that after everything you’ve done for her since the… well, you know.”

My mother physically cannot say the word “divorce.” It would be funny if it didn’t make me feel like shit. I have to get out of here but I know they won’t let me leave until we’ve “talked it out”—a process wherein I sit silently and get lectured by each member of my family for a varying amount of time. I can’t even bear the thought of it. I text Gene because I don’t know what else to do.

this has gone nuclear. need an escape plan. thoughts?

He texts me back almost immediately: where are you now?

i’m hiding in my parents’ bathroom like a totally normal adult woman.

It seems like a lifetime before he responds again, but really it’s only a minute or two.

go back downstairs and wait ten minutes. i’ll call you and we’ll take it from there.

I smile and text back: my hero.

I really don’t want to wait ten minutes but I suck it up. I make false apologies, tell everyone not to worry, that I’ve already been job hunting and something’s bound to turn up soon. My only sincere apology is to my nieces and nephews for using bad language at the dinner table and being mean to my brother and sister. I don’t want to be a bad influence on them. I don’t want them to grow up to be like me. My niece is giving me a big hug and saying, “I forgive you,” when my phone finally rings.

“Hmm,” I say, pretending not to recognize the number. “Hello? Yes, who is this?”

“Ok,” he says, “you are talking to a police officer. He is telling you that there has been a report of a break-in at your home. Act surprised, and a little bit scared.”

“WHAT?” I’m a decent actress when I put my mind to it. “Oh my God. Should I go home or do I need to come to the station or what? What do I do?”

I can hear muffled laughter and it’s all I can do not to break but this is important because Gene is a genius and this is actually going to work.

“OK,” he says, “now pace a little bit and nod and sort of vaguely murmur assent.”

“Mhmm,” I say, following his instructions to the letter, “mhmm… uh-huh…”

“Now thank me and get the hell out of there.”

“OK, yes, of course,” I say. “Thank you, officer. I’m on my way right now.”

“And the Oscar goes to,” he says, and he hangs up.

When I hang up all eyes are on me. I have center stage and now I really need to sell it.

“Someone broke into my house,” I say, and it’s easier than it should be to conjure up the right mixture of violation and fear. “I have to go. I’m sorry.”

My dad looks truly disturbed and I feel bad about that but it’s a necessary evil. He asks if I want him to come with me and I tell him, “Stay, Babbo, the policemen will take care of me.”

As usual, Donna knows I’m lying, but I can see her wondering how I pulled it off this time and exactly who was on the other end of that phone. I tell her I will call her later, and I truly mean it, because I need to apologize to her for real and, despite everything, I still want to tell her about Gene. Tommy is the Judas at this table, not her. Maybe she’ll even have some explanation as to why he did what he did.

I give big bear hugs and lots of kisses to the children before rushing out the door. I love those kids. I wish I could spend time with them without all these pesky adults running around. When I get to my car I make a big show of peeling out of the driveway because I know that my mother is watching from the window with her signature brand of curious concern. She’ll call me in an hour, on the dot.

I pull into a gas station a few blocks away from my parents’ house because I haven’t stopped laughing since I turned off their street. I pull my phone from my purse and call Gene because I have to talk to somebody and I want it to be him.

He picks up on the first ring. “All good?”

“I have no words,” I say. “That was amazing. You’re a genius. Thank you so fucking much.”

“My pleasure,” he says. “So, I take it the day went pretty much as expected?”

“Worse,” I say. “So much worse.”

“Did you actually burst into flames in the confessional, or were you just lightly smoking?”

I try to tell him to fuck off but I’m laughing too hard.

“So,” he says. “What are your plans for the rest of the evening?”

I look at the clock. It’s only 4:30. It feels like three days since I left the house this morning.

“Well,” I say, “I didn’t actually get to eat all that much with all the hysterics. How would you feel about moving dinner up a night?”

There is a long pause and an “ummmm” and some clearing of the throat, but no answer from him.

“I get it,” I say. “Too short notice.”

“No, no,” he says. “I just… I’ve got a few things I need to do first. Is 7:30 okay? Unless you’re starving in which case-”

“7:30 is great. I’ll text you my address. And Gene?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re not driving home tonight, so plan accordingly.”

I smile and hang up before he can protest.

Chapter Text

I will never hear from her again. This is the thought that hangs over me during the single longest shift I’ve ever spent at work. On a good day, everything hurts. Now my head feels like a loaded pincushion and there seems to be a lot more screaming children in the mall than should be there on a school day. Why are they so shrill? How does a small human even make a sound like that? Christ.

I drank too much last night. I drink too much every night, but I really went to town with her and now I’m feeling every second of my fifty-plus years on Earth. Doesn’t help that I slept in a shitbox car in the middle of January, but I have enough Chicago winters under my belt to deal with a few hours in the cold. I’ve got more padding on me now than I did back then, too, which doesn’t hurt.

I couldn’t help it. She made me nervous. Not from any fault of hers, just by being another human being with motives unknown. And I hated the lying. I’m so fucking tired of the lies. I don’t know what I want from her, but I know I’d at least like it to be honest.

I’m the only one out front when the frat pack approaches the counter. Their leader—the blond with the popped collar and the fucking spray tan—he smiles at me, and I know. I just fucking know. Call it a sixth sense for douchebaggery, but I know he’s going to order a Chillata, in January, when it’s 35 degrees in the sun.

“Hey man, can I get a-”

There it is, and now I’m on the blender and my head is screaming and I start to get angry. I’m the fucking Manager, right? Should I really have to do this right now? I almost snap and yell at one of the girls but I don’t do it. I’m not a total prick, not all the time. I will deal with this the way I always do. I will exit this old, tired body and put myself wherever I choose to be.

But it’s not working, because I want to be back in that car with Santa, and I can’t be outside of this body and think of her at the same time. Now I’ve got a problem, because “Gene” is tied to her. Gene is who she knows, or thinks she’s beginning to know, and I can’t have her without him. I have to be myself, and nothing makes me feel sicker.

I almost hear angels sing when one of the girls comes out front and finishes up for me. She apologizes, too, even though she was on her scheduled break. She’s a nice, honest girl, and I feel bad that I could even think of yelling at her, at any of them. I’m fooling myself if I think I’m above anyone else. I’m fairly certain I am the lowest of the low.

Still, I dig my phone from the drawer when I get to the back office. I have no new calls, no new texts. I have nothing—the same nothing I had yesterday, only now it’s worse because I actually want something and I can’t have it.

She was drunk. You were drunk. Shit happens. At least you got a stupendous blowie out of the deal. Give thanks for it and move on.

I can’t move on, though, because I’ve come to realize I am far too alone. I need conversation. I need companionship. I need some sort of human connection, because what is the point of all this, otherwise? What purpose does any of this serve if I walk through life like a dead man?

Somehow I make it through the day without going full Sylvia Plath on the industrial oven, and when I get home I have nothing to do but eat leftover pizza I can’t be bothered to heat up. I hold out as long as I can but it’s been dark for hours already and it feels much later than it is. I pour a drink, and I know that it’s the last thing my body needs but the only thing that will make me feel better—hair of the dog and all that. I force myself to wait until I’ve finished it to check my phone again.

Still nothing. I fix another before settling into my armchair and flipping channels. My phone is at the ready, in the cup holder, just in case, because for some reason I am holding out hope. Hope is an unsettling feeling for me now, so I try to zone out completely. There’s some nature show about Big Cats and I leave it on, but I’m not really paying attention. It is not what I want to be watching.

Don’t do it. Do not fucking do it. Just leave the tape in the box tonight.

But of course I can’t, because I’m spiraling deeper into this depression and my preferred form of self-care is masochism in its all its varied forms. I don’t know why I bother putting the tape away anymore when I’m just going to take it out most nights.

I am about to press play when she saves me from myself. The little tri-tone ding calls to me from my chair and I spill half my drink trying to get to it.

Please be her please be her.

And of course it is, because who the hell else would it be?

dinner monday?

I respond quicker than I probably should but, really, what’s the point in trying to play it cool? I am not cool, and this is not a game.

absolutely. anywhere you want.

i was thinking of maybe cooking? but if you’d rather go out that’s fine.

how could i pass on a home-cooked meal?

that would be unwise. any requests? allergies? bizarre food associations that dredge up childhood traumas?

She’s clever and playful and I can’t help but smile.

i have tragic memories of fish sticks so no gorton’s. other than that i’m pretty easy to please as you may have noticed ;)

I instantly regret using a winky-face emoticon and it seems like a year before she texts me back.

oh, i noticed. i’m not as easy to please but i have faith in you ;)

It goes on like this for a while—an innocent-ish textual flirtation, and it’s nice because I can take time to think about what I want to say before I say it. There’s something about having this barrier between us that makes me feel more at ease, like I can say things that I wouldn’t have the balls to otherwise. She starts it, though. Her balls are much bigger than mine.

so i hope you remember your debt to me…

how could i possibly forget?

so you’ll pay up, then?

i’m a man of my word.

well that’s a nice change of pace :)

I have to hit pause on the whole thing for a minute or two because I have a lot of very ungentlemanly things that I would like to say but no idea whether I should say them. I want to, though, and I’m pretty sure she wants me to when I get her next message.

i feel the need to warn you that if i cook for you and then find out you’re a selfish lover i’ll be furious.

I close my eyes and swallow. My fingers feel clumsy as I type out my message but I see my opportunity and I’m taking it. I don’t mind saying that I’m curious as to where this might go, and how far she is willing to take it—if last night is any indication, probably pretty far. I hit send and I’m sweating scotch but I don’t care because I absolutely, positively need to know.

so, for the sake of due diligence, you should probably tell me what you like.

well if you’re the type of guy who thinks eating pussy is a chore then you can lose my number right now.

it would be an honor and a privilege.

good, because i’m what’s for dessert.

I smile because I’ve always been skilled with my tongue and I feel bolder now, uninhibited, so I say the thing I’ve been wanting to say since I met her.

i have something very serious and important to tell you.

i’m listening.

you have, and i’m not exaggerating, the single most fuckable ass i’ve ever seen.

I wait. It’s out there now, can’t take it back. I don’t particularly want to, either. Turns out, it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time.

are you having impure thoughts about me, gene?

you have no idea.

why don’t you tell me then?

i would worship every inch of your ass if you’ll let me.

well i was a very bad girl last night. i probably deserve a spanking.

that can be arranged.

I have to laugh, because I’m sitting here with a fully-pitched tent in my sweatpants, talking to a pretty girl about all the things I’d do to that sweet keister of hers, and she’s liking it. Better yet, she’s wanting it. I stroke myself through the fabric and lick my lips because now she’s telling me how she likes to be fucked, in great detail, and I’m ready and willing to follow her instructions carefully. I’d be taking notes if I could get my hand off my dick. I don’t even mind when she tells me she has to go because I’ve already got what I need.

goddammit my mother is calling me. it’s like she has some sort of alert system that goes off when i’m sinning. i’m sorry but i have to call her back.

don’t worry about it. that’s kind of a mood killer anyway.

that’s an understatement. i wouldn’t mind picking this up another time though. maybe next time i’ll call ;)

hey whenever you feel like exercising that foul mouth of yours you can call me any time of day or night. i won’t even charge you for it.

you’re a real peach. goodnight gene. have sweet dreams :)

how could i not?

I didn’t need to wait until unconsciousness to dream about her. I have a grab bag of new visuals and a raging boner that I need to attend to immediately. I finish myself off, and quickly. She doesn’t end up calling, which is fine, because we get through our respective weeks having conversations that inevitably lead to sexting, as the kids are calling it these days. I have to say, it’s enjoyable. It’s building up my confidence to know that she might actually want me as much as I want her. Or maybe she just really needs to get laid, and I’m fine with that, too. We have an especially good conversation on Saturday night, because she’s clearly nervous about family time the next day and all I want is to make her laugh. I wouldn’t mind making her come on top of it, but that can wait.

I have my Sunday planned out already. I’m working the morning/early-afternoon shift and then I absolutely positively need to buy some new clothes. I need something that fits me and looks like the kind of thing a respectable, non-repulsive man would wear. I’m aiming for a fresh pair of slacks and a new button down with a navy blue sweater—nothing too flashy, but it’ll bring out my eyes, maybe distract her a little from the laundry list of things I hate about myself.

I’m in the back office, wrapping up and getting ready to leave, when I get her S.O.S. text. I can’t help but smile thinking about her hiding out in a bathroom, but if anyone understands what toxic family members can do to a person, it’s me, so I’m determined to help her out of this jam. I need a plan, though, and I’m not as quick with the bullshit as I used to be, so I take a minute to run through possibilities in my head.

It needs to be something unimpeachable, fail-safe, something no one could object to or question. I know she doesn’t have kids, so a child-related emergency is off the table. Work-related problem, also out. House fire won’t stand up to scrutiny unless I actually go and set her house ablaze, which seems a bit extreme. Then it hits me—a break-in, later chalked up to some minor vandalism by a roving band of teenagers. She can say nothing was taken—just a rock through a window or some such thing that a nosy neighbor could easily have interpreted as a robbery in progress.

All that can be dealt with later, but right now I know that I need to get her out of there and I’m confident this will work. All she needs to do is call me and I will save the day. I can be her hero. I tell her to wait a bit, because an immediate call would probably look fishy, and I spend the next ten minutes staring at the clock and praying to God that this works.

She impresses me when I’m finally able to call. She gets it right away—no explanation necessary—and when I hear her hamming it up for her family I have to cover the phone I’m laughing so hard. She’s really selling it, and I can picture her doing it, and I should not be as turned on by this as I am but I can’t help it. I appreciate a flair for the dramatic.

I stay put for a while, because if she calls me back I don’t want to miss it and I have more than enough time to get my shopping done before tomorrow night. I pretend to look at papers on my desk, but I’m just seeing a jumble of letters and numbers because the longer it takes for her to call me, the more worried I get that I have failed her. I start to think that maybe she won’t call me back at all when my phone rings. I snatch it off the desk and answer immediately.

“All good?” I ask.

And thank Christ, it is, and she is pleased with me and grateful to me and she thinks I’m a much better man than I am—so much better that now she wants to see me tonight. I don’t answer right away, because I have a plan in place and I need time to create the best version of Gene that I can. But I don’t want to miss my chance. I’ve been counting the seconds until I can see her again and there is no way in hell I’m saying no. I tell her I need a bit of time, and bless her heart, she gives it to me.

The panic doesn’t set in until after I hang up the phone.

Chapter Text

I had a plan in place for Monday, a well thought-out plan to make everything as simple and easy as possible. I was going to make a pot roast in the slow cooker with winter vegetables and it was going to make the house smell like a home. It was going to be spotless, I was going to be spotless—everything in it’s right place.

Now I’m rushing but it’s okay because I tell myself I am adaptable. I made a spontaneous decision and I don’t regret it, but I’m in get-shit-done mode because I have to rethink the menu and make sure I’m good to go in less than three hours. I can still do meat and potatoes, because it’s winter and he strikes me as a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, but I have to change it up due to time constraints. I make a quick decision: New York strip steaks with garlic whipped potatoes, and some sort of vegetable because I feel guilty not serving one. I can do that in two hours and still have time to look somewhat presentable. Done and done.

I swing by the liquor store and buy a few bottles of decent red wine because I’m out, as always, and because I need it if we are going to do what I hope we are going to do. As I’m paying my eye wanders to the row of expensive scotch and I find myself wishing I had the money to surprise him with a bottle of something nice. I’m broke as shit, though, so as much as I’d like to get him something special, it’s not happening. It’s mid-range Chianti tonight, and he’ll just have to deal with it. Something tells me he won’t mind.

I get home just after 5:30 and see I have five missed calls from my mother, and one from Donna. I know I need to call someone back, and I know it should be my mom, but frankly I’m pissed off at her and I don’t want to talk to her at all right now. I call Donna instead, knowing she’ll relay whatever message I give her.

“Hey,” she says, “are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” I say. “It was all a misunderstanding, there’s nothing wrong at the house so just please tell everyone it’s fine and I’m fine and whatever else you want to tell them because I’m not in the mood right now, nor do I have the time.”

I hear her sigh and she says, “Fine, but are you gonna tell me what’s going on with you soon or what?”

I promise her that I will, that I had planned to before everything went off the rails, and tell her I’ll call her in the morning. There is a long pause before she says, “Oh my God,” and whispers, “do you have a date tonight?”

I say no, but she knows. I don’t know how, but she always fucking knows.

“He’s just a friend, okay? I’m having dinner with a friend. You don’t have to call Father Francis over it. And do not fucking tell mom and dad or that rat brother of ours.”

She’s giggling now, and she sounds no older than four or five, but she promises not to say a word and I believe her.

“I’ll leave you to it, then,” she says, and I thank her and hang up.

It’s time to push everyone out of my mind because I have a ton of shit to do and no time to do it. The clock strikes six and I have to get all the prep done and preheat the oven before I jump into the shower for a quick body wash. I already know what I’m going to wear and I giggle when I put on a lacy red bra and panty set under the church clothes I’ve been wearing all day. It seems fitting to me—just the right amount of wrong.

For someone as depressed as I am, I keep a clean house. It’s one of the only things that I can do on a regular basis to feel normal, like I have some semblance of control over my life and my surroundings. Clutter makes me wistful for the days when I would trip over toys and baskets of dirty laundry, so I keep the house mostly spotless even though I have no visitors.

There are no traces of Paul in the house anymore, and I keep Annie locked away in her room. Her door remains closed, as always, and I’ve removed all the stickers that used to decorate it. I even gave it a fresh coat of paint, which helped, but if you look closely you can see that there was once something there. It’s not obvious, and he won’t be looking for it, so I try not to worry. I’m not ready for that conversation yet. I don’t know if I ever will be.

By 7:30, everything is either done or almost done. The table is set, and I place him in the seat reserved for guests. I can’t seat him in Paul’s old chair, or in Annie’s, because it’s just too much and too strange and I don’t want to think about any of that tonight. I am thinking about how I’d like to have enough money to buy a new table when the doorbell rings. 7:35. Very respectable.

When I open the door he is standing there shivering and I smile and pull him in out of the cold.

“Hi,” I say.

He smiles. “Hello, gorgeous.”

He is not smooth, not by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s trying and it’s endearing. He’s freshly pressed and clean and he’s wearing what I know is a brand new sweater because, bless his heart, he’s left the tag on and it’s dangling at the back of his neck. I compliment him on it and pretend to brush a piece of lint off the back while I tuck the tag in. He doesn’t need to know I know. That would not serve my purpose.

“Dinner smells incredible,” he says.

I tell him what’s on the menu as I finish up, and I know I’ve the made the right choice.

“So I don’t have any liquor but I have a bunch of red wine. Got a few beers somewhere, too, if you prefer.”

“I’ll have what you’re having.”

“Chianti it is, then,” I say, and I grab a bottle to open it. “Let’s take the sacrament.”

When I turn to deliver his drink I see he’s hovering near the table. He’s got his hand on the back of Annie’s chair and I have a split-second of sheer panic before I direct him to his assigned seat. I join him at the table and we clink glasses. I know I have a wicked look in my eyes, that the toast is implied but not spoken.

“So,” I say, “I need to properly thank you for helping me out today.”

“You already have,” he says, “and it was my pleasure.”

“You’re a clever one,” I say. “How did you even come up with that? I mean, it makes sense, but still.”

He laughs but he’s nervous. “I don’t know. It just sort of came to me. Call it Divine Intervention.”

“Well whatever it is, it worked, and I’m so much happier to be here with you than I would be there, so thank you again.”

“Glad to be of service.”

He doesn’t press me on what happened, just asks if I’m okay, and I am because he’s here and he’s sweet to me, so I tell him.

“I know you must be wondering what happened,” I say.

“You don’t have to get into it if you don’t want to.”

“It’s fine,” I say. “No big deal. Just my fucking asshole brother deciding to tell everyone in my family I got canned without talking to me about it first.”

“Jesus,” he says, and he shakes his head. “And you just walked right into it?”

“Yup,” I say, and I take a sip of wine. “Nice, right? Oh and as a bonus, I wrongly accused my sister of doing it and cursed at her in front of her children.”

“That mouth of yours gets you in trouble a lot, doesn’t it?”

“You know it,” I say, and I wink because it seems the thing to do.

Then I smell burning and realize that I’ve forgotten the vegetables in the oven. I use one of my favorite colorful expressions, and then it’s a mad scramble to get the pan out of there and dump its contents out the door because they’re smoking and they smell horrid and I need the door open to ventilate the place so the smoke alarm doesn’t go off.

Gene is laughing and waving air out the door and I should be embarrassed, or pissed, or some combination of the two. I’m not, though, because when I look at him I forget why it mattered to me that everything be perfect. I am a fuck-up. I fuck up, that’s what I do. And apparently, he enjoys it, so I laugh because I don’t care anymore. And who really wants to eat their vegetables, anyway?

When the smoke clears we sit down to dinner and another hearty pour of wine, and it’s really very nice. He doesn’t force me to talk about my family or my job or my life or anything else on the list of things I do not want to talk about. There are, of course, awkward silences, and I’m keenly aware of the sound of myself chewing, but for some reason it’s okay—not exactly comfortable, but not awful either. And he’s funny, and I like funny. I think sometimes he doesn’t even know he’s being funny, which is even better. He makes me feel playful, like I can tell him things that I can’t tell other people.

It’s not lost on either of us that this evening is meant to go in a certain direction, and I’m more than happy to steer it there, because I see his eyes darting from my cross necklace to my tits and back again. I know boys like him. He’ll enjoy my little anecdote.

“So, I’m fourteen, and I’m sitting on the bleachers with my friends whispering about some boy or another, and all of a sudden I look down and I see this kid—his name was Billy—and Billy is looking straight up my skirt with a shit-eating grin on his face.”

I can see Gene’s eyes go a bit wider and a smile is playing at the corner of his mouth. From the way he looks, I’d be willing to bet he was the Billy of his school at some point or another, and that he’s never been sorry about it. I continue, because I want to see if I can make this Catholic boy blush.

“Now, I know that I should probably tell my friends that he’s down there, because he’s a creepy little perv, but I don’t say anything. I just sort of smile down at him like, go ahead and look because you can’t touch.”

Gene swallows hard and takes a sip of wine. He’s fidgety and he doesn’t know what to do with his hands so he drops them below the table, out of sight. I smile at him, because he’s flushed now and I know that this is delicious torture for him.

“Then Sister Eunice comes out of nowhere—she always just appeared, you know? And she’s screaming at Billy, grabbing him by the ear and the whole nine. And you’d think only Billy would get in trouble for sneaking peeks but no, the four of us also got called into Sister Eunice’s office.”

I pause, because I want him to ask, and he does.

“What’d you get for it?”

“Five whacks a piece, for our licentiousness,” I say, and I lean forward, “all because we didn’t have our legs crossed, and our skirts were rolled up at the waist.”

He swallows again. “You should have known better than that,” he says.

“I did,” I say, “but I just didn’t give a fuck.”

I let him excuse himself to go to the bathroom and I try not to look at the obvious bulge in his pants when he stands up. It’s my fault it’s there, after all. No need to point it out. I want to clear the table anyway, and I take everything away but the wine bottle and our glasses.

I hear him come up behind me as I’m loading dishes into the washer but I don’t turn around because I realize that I’m actually nervous. Not the kind of nervous you get when you fear rejection, because I know that this man wants to fuck me and soon. It’s the kind you get when you really want something to work, and you’re not entirely sure that it will.

“Can I help?” he asks.

I’m about to tell him no, and to go sit down, when I feel his hands on my hips. It startles me, but not in a bad way, and I instinctively push back against him. I feel him hard against my ass and he pulls me closer and lets out the softest of moans. I let my head fall back and when I look at him he’s hungry for me.

“Ready for dessert?” I ask, and he whispers to me, “yes.”

I know that it’s wrong, and it would have been easy enough to drag him up to my bedroom by his collar and put him to work, but instead I walk backward towards the table—Paul’s side of the table—and I jump up on it and sit. It’s a team effort to get my dress hiked up and my underwear off but somehow it gets done, and now he’s down on his knees on my dining room floor with his face buried between my legs and those bear paws of his on my thighs.

He is good at this, and thorough, and I can tell that he’s enjoying it almost as much as I am. Some guys eat pussy well but it feels like they’re doing charity work. With Gene, I can feel every bit of his enthusiasm and gratitude in the way he moans against my flesh and the urgency of his hands, wherever he chooses to put them. He takes his sweet time with me, but it’s exactly what I want and exactly what I need and when I reach the point where I know for a fact I’m going to come, I start to praise him because he deserves it. I tell him how good he is, how incredible his tongue and his fingers feel. I tell him not to stop. I reach down and paw at his head as he brings me closer and closer.

I should have known it was coming. We talked, at length, about how he wants to eat every inch of my ass and tongue-fuck me until I scream. But when he actually does it I’m startled and I have to grip the table. I vaguely register that I’ve knocked over the wine bottle with all my flailing around but I do not fucking care at all because I’m in the midst of one of the most intense orgasms I can remember. I am loud and I am saying vile, sinful things, and it’s beautiful and powerful and it just feels right being here with him.

He brings me down slowly, and when I can form thoughts I realize that, no matter what happens from here, I have this moment—this perfect thing that happened. Part of me wants to stop right now but the other, more aggressive part wants to get him into the bedroom and fuck him half-blind for his troubles. He is kissing my thighs now and it’s almost too much so I sit up and look at him. I can see the pain as he pulls himself up off the floor and I realize that he’s been down there doing good work for a solid 30 and I owe him the ride of his fucking life for it.

“Bedroom,” I say. “Now.”

I lead him up the stairs and he follows at my heels but when I get him in my room he’s not the same man. He is, in a word, terrified. I want to put him at ease and assure him that he is very much doing a good job and I’d very much like him to continue. I take off my cardigan and ask him to get my zipper and his hands are clumsy at my back. The zipper sticks, of course, and I hear him curse.

“Hey,” I say, turning to face him. I take his cheek in my hand and plant a kiss on his lips. “Relax.”

He nods and he manages to get the zipper all the way down after a few tries. I ditch the troublesome dress and when I’m down to just my bra his eyes go wide before he snaps them shut. He mutters, “Christ,” but it doesn’t sound entirely positive, and now I’m wondering if there’s something he’s not telling me. I put my hands on his belt buckle but he grabs them and holds them still.

“Wait,” he says, and I freeze in place and stare at him because I don’t know where I went wrong.

“Talk to me,” I say, but he just shakes his head. “Please?”

“This is so fucking embarrassing,” he says and he hides his face behind his hands. When he takes them away he looks absolutely shattered and I feel awful without knowing what I’ve done.

“Just tell me.”

“I just… I want… uh… I want you to be… you know… satisfied.”

I smile at him kindly and say, “I’m already satisfied. I’m just greedy.”

He laughs but it feels forced. I wait for him to say whatever it is he needs to say and it’s a very long few seconds before he spits it out.

“I don’t think I’m gonna last very long,” he says, but he’s not looking at me. “I’m sorry, I just-”

“Stop,” I say. “It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine.”

“It is one-hundred-and-ten percent fine,” I say, and I grab his chin and force him to look me in the eye. “I can’t remember the last time I came as hard or as good as you just made me come, so whatever you want to do and however fast or slow you want to do it is fucking A-Okay with me, you got it?”

He smiles, but it’s a sad smile and he seems a million miles away from me.

“Yeah,” he says. “I got it.”

“Good, now tell me what you need from me and it’s yours.”

“I don’t think I can have you touch me right now,” he says, “so I’m just gonna get undressed.”

“Can I watch at least?”

He laughs, and it’s sincere but self-deprecating. “I don’t know why you’d want to.”

I have never been with a man who was self-conscious about his body—or, if any of them were, they never let on. I suppose I’ve just always associated that particular form of self-loathing with womanhood and all the pressure and expectations that go along with it. I thought that men didn’t care, that looking perfect wasn’t particularly important to them, especially after a certain age. But Gene is showing me a part of himself that he desperately does not want to show me. He’s beyond vulnerable, and I realize that I have a responsibility to him—he is trusting me with something and I need to keep it safe.

I turn off the lights while he undresses, avoiding his eye, and I sit on the edge of the bed. He is down to his boxers, digging something out of his pants pocket, and I see that it’s a full strip of condoms. I pretend not to notice when he tears one free and hides the rest away. Finally, he looks at me and asks me, very quietly, if I will take off my bra. I do it quickly because I can see the tent in his boxers and I’m praying to God he doesn’t come before he even gets it in—not for my sake but for his, because I know if that happens I will never, ever see him again.

“How do you want me?” I ask, even though I know. He couldn’t stop talking about how he wants to give it to me from behind. I know he feels bad asking for it in this particular situation so I just get up on my hands and knees on the bed and look at him over my shoulder. “Like this?”

“Oh, God. I won’t make it thirty seconds like that.”

And then I have one of my bright ideas—the kind that tend to get me into trouble, the kind that are always the most fun. I grab the little egg from my bedside drawer and hold it up.

“Do you know what this is?” I ask.

He looks from me to the vibrator and back to me. “Uh, yeah. At least I think… uh, yeah. I know what that is.”

“Does it bother you? I mean, if I use it while you fuck me, will it bother you?”

He thinks about it for a second, really thinks about it, and says, “Actually, no. I’m fully in favor of anything that makes you come.”

“Good,” I say, “now slap a rubber on and fuck me like you need rent money.”

He laughs and I laugh and the awkwardness is gone now, for the duration of this thing we are finally doing together. I’m going into it thinking he’s just gonna start jackhammering away back there, and that would have been fine with me, honestly, but he doesn’t. He is very slow and deliberate as he enters me and it feels absolutely divine. He lets me feel every inch of him before he starts to move, and I can tell he is really holding back, thinking that he can squeeze a few extra seconds out of it if he just takes it slow. But that’s not what he wants right now, and it’s not what I want either. I crank my vibe up to the highest setting and tell him to fuck me into the mattress.

I don’t actually count the seconds but it can’t be more than a minute before he is saying “fuck fuck fuck,” and then he’s coming, and Christ is he loud when he comes but I absolutely love that sound and it sets me off. I make him stay inside me and grip my hips as I make myself come again. It’s not the greatest orgasm I’ve ever had, but it’s perfectly fine and I can tell that he likes the way I feel from the inside. He pulls out and leans down, and after he kisses my shoulder he whispers, “thank you.”

I tell him he is staying the night with me and he says there’s nowhere else he’d rather be. We take turns in the bathroom and I can tell he’s absolutely exhausted and only keeping his eyes open because it would be rude to fall asleep before I got into bed. He has this fucked-out sleepy look on his face that I love, and I’m not a cuddler anyway, so I get into bed and kiss him goodnight and tell him how happy I am that we did this.

And I am happy, truly. It wasn’t perfect, but when is it ever, really? He’s asleep in about a minute flat and I lay next to him, trying to think of something I’d do differently if I had another crack at it and coming up short. No, this was perfect in all its imperfections, and I wouldn’t change a goddamn thing. But he’s gone when I wake up in the morning—no sleepy goodbye, no scribbled note on the counter—and now I regret absolutely everything.

Chapter Text

There was a time I would have rubbed one out before a date like this. It used to get me all jazzed up and ready to roll and, more importantly, it made it easier for me to last a respectable amount of time in the sack. I’ve always had a bit of an issue with longevity in that department, but for a long time I just didn’t give a shit because it was all about me. I know how to make a woman come, I’m not completely worthless, but it’s been a long time since I’ve actually cared about one enough to put the work in.

She is more than worth it, I’ve decided. I think I decided that first night with her, but now I know it for sure because I’ve just spent an extra hour in the mall after work, shopping at warp speed, and actually trying on clothes to make sure they fit right. And now I’m ironing said clothes and trimming my mustache and making sure I’m clean as a whistle before I step one foot out the door.

When I’m done with the clippers I look in the mirror to inspect myself and I almost do it—I almost shave the fucking mustache right off. I despise it, I really do, but it’s part of my cover and I know it has to stay. I force myself to look on the bright side: after I eat her alive, it will keep her scent for me. That’s all contingent on me not completely fucking this up, of course, but I have to be confident now. I’m solidly in her good graces and I should be able to stay there long enough to get her off at least once. That will buy me some time, and hopefully some patience.

She lives about 20 minutes away from me, which is a little too close for comfort if I’m being honest. Still, I leave an hour early because I have one last errand to run and if I stay, I’ll start pacing around the house, drinking and playing the “worst-case scenario” game, which will not help my chances. In an ideal world, I would have had time to get into character before meeting her. Hell, I might have even had time to figure out what my character is supposed to be. But that’s all off the table now—it’s crunch time, and I just have to run with it and pray I make it through without blowing it.

I drive completely out of my way to a gas station convenience store to procure a box of condoms. I don’t know what her deal is, but I know I’ve been not-so-smart in the past and contracted a few nasty things as a result. Nothing a shot of penicillin or some pills won’t fix, at least not that I know of, but the fact is that, at this moment, I don’t know for sure. I think I actually care about this woman and I don’t want anything bad to happen to her on my account.

I hate that they keep the condoms behind the register. The Sudafed I get, believe you me, but the fucking condoms? Come on. I stand there for a minute pretending to look around even though I know what I need. I buy a pack of cigarettes even though I don’t smoke these days. It reminds me of a different time, one that I do not need to be reminded of, but I buy them anyway because for some reason I can’t buy condoms alone. I need to have another purpose, pretend they are an afterthought. I ask for the big box because for some reason it feels better than asking for the three-pack. The ten-pack screams confidence and assurance, and that’s what I need right now. When I get to the car, I open the box and put a strip in my pocket so I don’t forget them.

I’m early, really early. Like half-an-hour early, so I drive around her neighborhood for a while. It’s all picket fences and manicured lawns and cookie-cutter houses—the kind of place where women power walk together and talk shit on their husbands before taking their sons to little league. It doesn’t fit her, or at least what I know of her, and I wonder who she was when she moved here.

I’m running low on gas so I park a few houses down from hers and wait the rest of the time. It’s below freezing tonight and even with the heat on I’m numb from the cold. Even though I’m shivering, 7:30 on the dot reeks of desperation so I decide on 7:35. Ten more minutes before I can see her, ten minutes to figure out how the fuck I’m gonna pull this off.

I know I need to be clever and witty, and I used to have that in spades, so I try to channel as much of the old moxie as I can. I feel… okay in these clothes. I’d rather be wearing a suit, because I’d always rather be wearing a suit, but this date is casual (at least in theory) so I think I’ve done my best with what I’ve got. Not great, not terrible—the most I could ever hope to be.

It’s finally time and as I’m pulling into her driveway it occurs to me that I should have brought a gift—flowers, a bottle of wine, a decent vodka, anything. Instead I bought rubbers and smokes and drove around in circles talking to myself for 30 minutes, and now I have nothing but nerves to show for it. I’m embarrassed before I even ring the bell.

Sweet Christ she looks good.

She’s got on her Sunday Best—a modest dress, floral pattern, and a cardigan, with the cross necklace that gives me the most inappropriate thoughts. She couldn’t hide that body if she tried, though, and even all covered up I can’t help thinking about what’s underneath. It’s almost better this way, too, all the more exciting when it all comes off.

Stop it. Stop thinking about her naked. You’re not even in the fucking house yet.

She reaches out and pulls me in out of the cold and when she says, “hi,” I want to kiss her. It seems like the most natural thing in the world to do, and it’s not like it’s the first time, but I don’t. I use one of my old lines but it feels strange coming out. At least she likes my sweater.

As she finishes cooking dinner I notice how empty the house feels. It’s clean as a whistle but it feels almost staged, like they do when a house is on the market. It’s nicely decorated but it doesn’t feel like a home. There’s nothing but bric-a-brac on the shelves and cheap art on the walls—no pictures, no keepsakes, nothing that could give me any new intel on her. It’s essentially a much cleaner, much nicer version of my shitty, soulless condo. I’m starting to think maybe I have no idea who she really is, and it’s oddly comforting.

I know two things for certain: the food smells incredible and she is a good hostess. She puts me at ease and sits down to have a drink with me, and I need this drink because my hands are shaking. I tell myself it’s just nerves but, let’s be honest, it’s probably the shakes. But she’s not looking at my hands; she’s looking at my face with a naughty little twinkle in her eye and, as much as I like it, I kind of wish she wouldn’t. I’m already far too worked up for my own good and I need to pace this out or else I’m completely done for.

She thanks me for my assistance and I’m able to brush it off when she asks me how I came up with my little scheme. As far as she knows, I am Gene the aging Cinnabon manager, and Gene has no reason to know how to pull a scam. I got lucky this time, that’s all. It’s not like I spent another life perfecting the art of bullshit. I’m just a guy who helped a girl, and now this girl is telling me she is happy I’m here with her. It catches me off guard.

She’s just being polite.

But it’s more than that and I know it. I won’t admit to myself that I know it, but I do. I want to make her happy, and I want to know that she’s okay after the day she’s had. I don’t want to just blurt it out but I’m curious as to what kind of situation would be bad enough to make her literally run and hide. She strikes me as very brave and very strong, but we all have our limits. I want to know what hers are.

Of course it’s the fucking brother.

Family is the absolute worst. Well, I suppose that’s not true for all people, but it’s sure as hell true for me. Apparently hers isn’t much better, well intentioned as she says they are. Now I’m trying to keep my shit together but I’m angry. It’s an ancient anger mixed with this new outrage she’s presenting me with, and I want to call a guy who knows a guy and make damn sure he never fucks her over again. Of course, that’s not an appropriate response, nor is it even possible anymore.

When she winks at me I forget about everything. I’m focused on how much I’d like to kiss her when we both smell the burning. I try to assist as best I can but it’s funny, really, because she’s on a creative cursing streak and she looks sexy as hell when she’s pissed off. Honestly, it’s kind of a relief that she fucked up first—the pressure’s off for the moment and I feel like I can breath. I don’t give a shit about burned vegetables. I do, however, care about whether she cares about burned vegetables. I top off her glass of wine and hand it to her when she’s done cleaning up the mess.

Dinner is going well. I feel like I can talk to her. I know I can’t be completely honest but I find myself able to swing the conversation to places where I know I won’t have to lie. I can tell stories that are mostly true, and she will laugh because she thinks I’m funny. Still, I’m very conscious of where I am and why I’m here. She is too, but I’m having a real hard time controlling myself.

Now she’s preying on my weakness and telling me some story about Catholic crime and punishment and I can’t control the way I’m fidgeting. Her lips are stained with wine and I can’t take my eyes off of them while she speaks and I think I may actually have drooled on myself a little bit. I’m hard—not just a semi, I’m talking a full-on erection—and I’m positive that she knows it, that she knows exactly what she’s doing, and I could listen to hours of it, but I know that if she keeps going there’s about a 97% chance I’ll blow a load in my pants right here at the dinner table. I have to excuse myself and she allows it. She’s gracious. She’s kind. I keep it together until I close the door behind me.

Christ. You’re gonna fuck this up. Think of something terrible that isn’t your life. Dead puppies? Dumpster babies? Jesus.

I run the water, slap a little on my face and wash my hands, all the while forcing myself to breathe evenly and normally and not think about the myriad ways I’d like to penetrate the woman in the next room. It’s impossible though, because I remember every dirty text she sent me, and all the filth I sent back to her. I’m thinking about all of it and all of a sudden I realize that I’m fine. It’s not about me right now. I owe her a debt and I’m itching to pay up. I look at myself in the mirror and I tell the man staring back at me that he can do this, and he can do it well.

It’s showtime, folks.

She’s at the sink when I round the corner and I’ve got tunnel vision on that ass. It’s calling me and I’m ready to answer, and when I see my moment and I hesitate for a split-second before I decide to just go for it. I am not smooth, but I’m not really trying to be, and she clearly doesn’t care because she’s pushing back against me and arching her back and asking me if I’m ready for her.

And I am. I’m more than ready. I’m ready enough that I don’t care that I’m about to fuck my knees up on this hardwood floor because I’ve got her dress up and she’s wearing lacy red panties underneath that I almost don’t want to take off. Almost.

I’m manhandling her a little bit but I can tell she likes that because she’s sighing in that way women do and her legs are resting on my shoulders, pulling me closer. She smells like pure woman, and I’m taking my time with her, because I want to tease her like she teased me. I want her wet and aching for it before I even go to work. It’s working, but I’m dying to taste her so I start off slowly, tracing the curve of her lips with my tongue until she’s whining and whispering, “please.” Then I dive into her and give her my best and she tastes better than any dessert I’ve ever had.

My knees are on fire but I don’t care. It’s helping me, actually—this pain. I’m still straining against my zipper but it’s easier not to focus on my dick when my knees are screaming for me to get the fuck up off the floor. I won’t though, not until she comes. I have to forget about everything except the rhythm of my tongue and my lips and my hands and all the things that I can do to her with them. I owe her this and she deserves it and so much more.

I reach a point where my animal brain takes over—I am voracious, and I’m practically growling as I go at her. I can barely breathe because now she’s got me in a vice grip with her thighs and she’s grasping at what hair I’ve got left. I know I’ve got her now. I know she’s almost there. I know these things without her having to tell me but she can’t keep that filthy mouth closed and now she’s praising me for my talents in the foulest of ways.

She tells me I’m the best she’s ever had, that I own her pussy and she wants me to destroy her. She tells me that she wants to ride my face straight to hell and then I lose it. I can’t stop myself. I pull her closer, so her ass is hanging over the side of the table and then I throw her legs back to get at it. She squeals and grabs the table when I start to tongue her but she doesn’t stop me. I’m a filthy fucking pig and I cannot get enough of it, and she can’t either because she’s telling me “don’t stop don’t stop” and I couldn’t if I tried.

Now she’s coming and I can feel it on my fingers but she tells me while it’s happening, just so I know. I don’t stop after, just slow down a bit, because even though my jaw aches and my knees are ground to the bone, I feel almost high. I kiss her everywhere and pray she doesn’t stop me because I don’t want this feeling to go away. I don’t want to think about what happens next.

But now I’ve come back to myself because she’s leading me upstairs to her bed. I’m already almost past the point of no return and I start to panic, because I can’t see any scenario in which I can fuck her the way she wants to be fucked. And I know what she wants. She told me what she likes—a slow start that builds over time to something filthy and sloppy and rough. I’d love nothing more than to give that to her but just thinking about it is almost enough to set me off.

She knows there’s something wrong with me. It’s subtle, and she tried to hide it, but I see her face fall when she looks at me now. I want to scream when I can’t even get the damn dress off her. I almost give up when she turns to me and kisses me.

“Relax,” she says. I fucking wish.

I finally get the zipper down, but now she’s standing there in just her bra and I know that if she takes it off I’ll come—no doubt about it. I have to shut my eyes and beg to Christ she doesn’t touch me right now. And then she does and I grab her wrists to stop her and I hope I wasn’t too rough but I absolutely cannot have any part of her touching any part of me. She looks upset, like she thinks it’s her fault, and I don’t want to tell her even though she’s asking and deserves to know.

I do tell her, though, because I swore to myself that I would be as honest as I could be. I’m absolutely mortified and I want to jump out her bedroom window and slink away in the night but I don’t, because she stops me and tells me that it’s all okay. It’s not, of course, but she has the patience of a saint and she lets me do what I need to do to get through it.

The dark helps a bit, but who the fuck am I kidding? I’ve got a minute in me, at best, and maybe even less because now she’s ass up on the bed because she knows how much I like that. I’m at a loss, really, and I have no idea what to do. And then she solves the problem in the most creative and inappropriate way possible, and I think I might love her for it.

Is it weird? Maybe, but what the hell? I’m already beyond embarrassed and if it’ll make her come, as she’s confident it will, then I’m on board that train. That’s what I really want underneath it all, right? That’s the root of my current problem—or at least I think it is. So fuck it. I’m game, and she’s a good sport.

I start slow, even though that’s a dangerous game to play, because I want her to really feel me. I may be a two-pump chump but at least I’ve got a decent-sized cock. But she’s so fucking wet and she’s warm and her ass feels like heaven in my hands so when she tells me to really give it to her I do, no holding back. She knows I’m about a millisecond from blowing my load but she’s got herself covered. The harder I fuck her, the more her ass ripples and shakes and then I am absolutely, positively done for. I come louder than I have any right to, but she’s egging me on and telling me to fill her up and she’s almost got herself off. She tells me what to do and I do it. I make sure she gets what she needs.

I could fall asleep inside her, honestly—that’s how much she took out of me—but I don’t. I kiss up her back and thank her for her kindness, which I in no way deserve, and I tell her I will stay the night with her. I actually want to, which is strange for me, but even if I didn’t I can barely keep my eyes open. The post-orgasm coma isn’t new for me, either. At least this is bedtime and not a nooner.

Most nights I drink enough to stave off the nightmares, and if I have them I don’t remember them in the morning. But tonight I fall asleep relatively sober, at least by my standards, and I have a real doozy. I don’t know where I am exactly, or who is responsible, but I’m digging a hole in the desert. I know that this hole is a grave, and this grave is for me, even before I’m kicked into it. When I look up all I can see is sand falling into my eyes and my mouth and soon everything is dark and I can’t breathe.

When I wake up I don’t even know that I’m awake, because the room is pitch black and unfamiliar and I still can’t breathe. I know that I am in a bed, not a ditch, but it takes me a minute of sheer panic to remember who and where I am. The panic doesn’t go away, though. It gets worse. My heart is beating out of my chest and I’m thinking, this is it, this is how I go, but I know in my brain that this is not my death—it feels like death but it will pass. I need to get out of this room, though. I need some air, maybe a drink of water.

I’m not familiar with the layout of her home but I know that there's a bathroom close by. I’m trying to control my breathing, stumbling through the hallway, and I try the first doorknob I find. I grope the wall for a light switch and when I hit it I am not standing in a bathroom. The walls and the carpet are bubblegum pink and there are boxes of toys and clothes all over the floor. All are marked “Goodwill” but none of them are closed. The air smells stale and there is a thin layer of dust on everything. On the far wall, there is a single, framed photo of a woman and child on a swing set. They have the same smile, the same face.

By the grace of God, I find the bathroom on my next try, and I have to sit on the toilet and focus on my breathing for what seems like an hour before I’m somewhat right again. But I’m not okay, not really, because it all makes sense now. At least, I think I’ve put most of the pieces together, and the resulting puzzle makes me feel as hopeless as I’ve ever felt. It also makes me remember the single worst thing I have ever been a party to, and I know I have to leave immediately and never come back.

I don’t know why I allowed myself even this much. I don’t know why I thought that maybe one day I could tell her about all the awful things I’ve done and that she would pardon me for my sins. I’m quiet as a mouse as I gather my clothes off the bedroom floor, and I don’t look at the curled up lump in the bed as I dress. I can’t look at her, because if I do I might wake her up and tell her everything just to finally unburden myself. She doesn’t need to hear those things, though. She has her own scars, the kind that will never heal.

You should never have come here.

I leave without a trace and I hate myself for it, but she can never really know me. If she did, she would despise me, and that’s something I don’t think I can take. I can take a lot, I have taken a lot, but I’m tired now and I was kidding myself thinking I could actually have someone in my life who is good.

And she is good, as much as she claims otherwise—far too good for me, even when I was the best version of myself. Still, I can’t bring myself to shower when I get home. I don’t want to wash her off. I need to keep what little I have so I can remember why I left it.

Chapter Text

It was naïve to think he wouldn’t find out, that I could be this new woman, unfettered by her past, and pretend like it never even happened. It’s out now, though, at least in some form. Annie’s door was wide open when I searched the house for Gene, and that can only mean one thing: he walked right into my lie and he’s decided he can’t forgive me for it. It has to be that, because the alternative is much worse. I don’t want to believe in the possibility that he just wanted sex and left once he got what he came for—that he is the kind of devil mamma has always warned me about, and that I fell for it again.

I have to shower immediately. My body feels used, and not in the good way. The water is scalding but I feel like I’ll never be clean again if I don’t burn him off me and rub my skin raw. I’m trying to scrub away my own guilt, too, because I never should have lied to him. It occurs to me that maybe I have gotten exactly what I deserve.

It’s self-flagellation by loofah, and it hurts like hell, but I do not turn the heat down and I do not stop until my fingertips are shriveled-up raisins. I can hear my mother’s voice in my head: the way she says “slut” and “whore” in that hushed tone, like she’s too pure to use those words but she has to, because some people are just asking for it. I don’t cry, because crying is for victims and I’ve brought this on myself.

Still, I can’t wrap my mind around it. He doesn’t strike me as the type who would just up and leave without giving me a chance to explain. That’s exactly what he did, though, so now I’m left with the dawning realization that I have no idea who this man really is. I can’t accept that, though, and after I dry myself off, I check my phone for any missed calls or texts. I have one missed call from Donna, nothing from Gene.

I need some fucking coffee if I am going to talk to my sister, and I am because I have to and I need to. I can’t tell her the whole truth, of course, but I can give her a general idea. I call her when I’m on my third mug and she picks up right away.

“Finally,” she says, “now what the hell is going on with you? Start talking. I have to leave for the PTA in half an hour.”

I smile, because I can see her sitting all rigid on the couch, in her little twin set and pleated khakis, wearing her no-nonsense face.

“Honestly, Donna, I don’t even know where to start.”

“Yes you do,” she says, and I start at the beginning.

I tell her that I met him in the mall, that he seemed nice and he was funny, but that he was the one who started the whole thing. I call him a true gentleman, and tell her he asked me out and I accepted, because I’m trying to move on with my life and he seemed like a nice, safe man. I don’t tell her where he works, because I know she would stop by the next time she’s out shopping, and I fib a bit about exactly how long ago this all happened. I tell her that we’ve gone out a few times and that I have grown very fond of him, that he was kind and sweet to me and always treated me with respect. I tell her these things because she’s my baby sister, and she doesn’t need to know I am a wanton lustful whore who will choke on the dick of the first guy to give her a little attention.

“So I, errrr… gave in to temptation and I let him spend the night.” I sigh, and it’s real. “I really liked him Donna, I did. And I thought he liked me. But when I woke up this morning he was just gone—poof—no note, nothing.”

“He just left?” she asks, and something about her incredulity makes me feel a bit better. I sigh, though, because I have to tell her.

“Well, I sort of lied to him.”

“Oh Lord, what did you say?”

“It’s not so much what I said as what I didn’t say.”

“I’m waiting…”

“The first time we went out he asked me if I had kids, and I said no. I didn’t elaborate. And he found Annie’s room after I fell asleep last night.”

“Oh. Oh no.”

“Yeah.”

She takes a long pause before she speaks.

“Well, while I do think that you should have been truthful with him at some point—maybe not right away, but after a little while—I get why you didn’t, or couldn’t. I’m not going to tell you how you should deal with that, though. I can’t even imagine and my heart breaks just thinking about it.”

She pauses, and I know she’s thinking of Annie and trying not to cry. Donna was her godmother and she loved her like her own. She gets it together though, because she knows better than to cry to me on the phone about that particular subject.

“Either way, I don’t think that he should have walked out on you without a word, especially right after you… you know.”

“Fucked?” I say, because I know it will irritate her.

“Yes, that.”

“Well what the hell am I supposed to do now?

“Let me have a think on it and I’ll call you later,” she says, and adds an afterthought. “But don’t call him, because that looks desperate.”

“Thanks a lot,” I say, and she doesn’t pick up on my sarcasm.

“You’re welcome! Talk soon.”

She hangs up with a smooch sound and I have to laugh. It feels good to have unburdened myself a bit, but now my guilt is turning into anger. So what if I didn’t tell him what happened? That doesn’t give him the right to just fuck me and leave. Who the fuck does this guy think he is, walking out on me? I was patient. I was kind. I was good to him.

Fuck you, Gene.

Somehow I manage to be productive, by which I mean I half-ass look at job postings online and fiddle with my ancient resume, but I’m not really focused because I’m furious. I need a job more than I need a man, so I go through the motions, but I can’t stop my mind from wandering into places it shouldn’t. I think about the things that he did to me—intimate things that I can’t imagine he’d do if he was only in it to get himself off and bail—but I’m not truly sad until I find last night’s underwear balled up under the kitchen table.

I remember us laughing together, because for some damn reason neither of us could get them off of me, and now I’m well and truly gutted—and that pisses me off even more. I’m furious that I’m sitting around in my sweatpants, thinking about what I could have done differently with this man to make him want to stay with me. I’m furious that, despite it all, I’m still stealing glances at my phone to see if there’s any word from him.

I look at the clock and decide that 5:30 PM is a respectable enough time to drive to the liquor store. My shopping list is simple: cheap vodka, two bottles of tonic, and fresh limes from the greengrocer. When I get home I tell myself that I am not going to call him or text him. I am going to spend the evening getting casually drunk and feeling sorry for myself, but I will not be desperate. He owes me an apology—I deserve one—but I’m not going to beg for it.

By 9:30 I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor of my daughter’s room, drinking vodka from the bottle and crying. I went in just to look—so I could know exactly what it is he saw, and I don’t know why I thought I could handle going in there at this particular moment in time but I did. It was the false confidence that comes from the bottle, which quickly devolves into self-destructive behavior like, say, going through a box of clothing and smelling each piece just to see if there’s anything left of her.

It should all be gone by now—there are children who need these things—but I just can’t part with it. It’s selfish of me and I accept that, because I am a selfish person. Sitting here, crying vodka tears, I know that my life would be easier without all these things sitting around, collecting dust, but I rarely act in my own best interest and I’d rather have a tomb in my house than give up her ghost.

And now I’m angry again, because how could he have looked at this room and not seen my suffering? How could he possibly use this against me? How could he make me care for him and then care so little about me? The vodka starts doing the talking and before I know it I’ve got my phone in my hand.

 

i want to know why you thought it was ok to just fuck me and leave and not tell me why.

 

I hit send and I put my phone down and walk away. I am pacing around my living room with a bottle in my hand, talking to myself, waiting to hear the new message ding, but nothing happens. It’s five, ten, fifteen minutes, and nothing.

 

can you please just tell me why. you owe me that.

 

Complete radio silence for an hour, then two hours, and now the bottle is lighter than it should be and I’ve completely lost control.

 

you know what fuck you you piece of shit

you’re a pig and a coward and i don’t want either

i can’t believe i even let you touch me

you’re just a pathetic piece of shit loser who cant fuck for more than ten seconds without coming

take your worthless dick and shove it up your own ass because i am done with you

and lose my fucking number while you’re at it

 

Of course, I don’t know that I have done any of this until I wake up on my couch at one in the afternoon the next day. I have a violent hangover and I don’t remember much but I have a horrible feeling curdling in my chest and it makes me check my phone. I read all these terrible things that I said to him, try to remember where I was when I did all this and come up with only the haziest of memories. I had to vomit before, but now it’s a sure thing.

I have said a lot of horrible things in my life—mostly behind people’s backs, but sometimes to their faces—and this ranks with the worst of it. I took his vulnerability and his trust and I threw it back in his face with as much vitriol as I could. He hurt me, yes, but I couldn’t even wait a full day before I struck back at him with way more force than was necessary. Now I know for certain that I will never hear from him again. I fucked it up beyond all repair last night, and now I get to live with it.

For a while I just put it out of my mind using the “it didn’t happen if you don’t remember it” approach, but that only takes me so far. There is physical evidence in my phone that it most definitely did happen, and I can’t help but look again and again. I should delete all the texts. I should erase the contact completely and be done with it, but I don’t. Instead I decide that, for the first time in a long time, I really do need Jesus. I’m too beat up to go to His House so I sit on the tile in my shower, hugging my knees, and I pray.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me clean

I commune with God in my own mind because I need forgiveness. I am honest and I am repentant and I don’t know if He’s listening, but by the time I’m through I know one thing for sure: now that I’ve apologized to Him, I have to apologize to Gene, because I was wrong to do what I did and I want him to know that I’m sorry for it. I am better than all that rot I sent to him. That is not the kind of woman I am. But more than that, I do not want to be hated. This is a selfish and self-serving reason to apologize to someone, but it’s there and it’s real and I have to acknowledge my truth.

And my truth is this: I liked a boy and he didn’t like me back. He wanted what all boys want, and I gave it to him. I lied, and maybe he lied too, but I am not an innocent party to this. I knew what I was doing. It just didn’t work. And when I didn’t get my way I let my wrath and my vice get the best of me. I said things that can never be unsaid, things I knew would cut him to the bone, and although I don’t remember saying those things, I know that a part of me enjoyed it. That is what I’m sorry for—the fact that I could take pleasure in his pain.

I should call him and say these things but I’m frightened, and I know he won’t pick up anyway. Texting got me into this mess and it seems only fitting that I be forced to reread all the horrible shit I said while I try to clean it up.

 

i’m so sorry about last night. i was drunk but that’s no excuse and i really feel terrible about it. if you don’t want to respond i understand but just know that i didn’t mean any of those things and i’m really very sorry.

 

I send this text at 4:57; he responds at 5:02.

 

look i know i’m a worthless piece of shit and you are too good for me in every possible way so it’s better you realize this now before you waste any more time on me. i want you to be happy and you could never be happy with me so please just take care of yourself and forget about me.

 

I read this text once, then I read it again. I read in this text everything that I was secretly hoping he would say to me, but now I’m angry again, because he is presuming to know what I want and what I need, and he doesn’t get to make that decision for me.

 

where are you now?

home.

text me your address i’m coming over.

 

I think that he is going to argue with me, or ignore me again, but he doesn’t. He responds with a quick “ok” and tells me where he lives. Now I’m in my car driving the twenty or so minutes to Gene’s complex and I’m nervous, because I never thought he’d actually agree to see me and I don’t really know what I’m hoping to accomplish with this. I want him to know that he is wrong about me and about himself, and I want to apologize to him in person, for everything. Other than that, I’m really just winging it, but not one part of any of this has been properly planned or thought through, so why switch it up now?

When I pull into his driveway, I don’t turn the car off because I’m frozen in place. My hands seem glued to the steering wheel and all I can think is that he changed his mind. He’s not going to answer the door; he is going to leave me out in the cold. He’s already done that, metaphorically speaking, and I don’t think I can take it if he does it quite literally. But I have to try, because I’m carrying this guilt around with me like a cancer and I need to excise it before it spreads.

And now it’s happening: I knock three times and I wait and there is silence. Three more times, harder now, and still I’m shivering on the doorstep. I can’t see shit through the frosted glass and the blinds are closed up tight but I know he’s in there. His car is in the driveway, and I’d know that car anywhere. Now I’m in a rage, and I’m pounding on the door hard enough to shatter bone and I’m yelling and I know I must look and sound like some crazed, scorned ex-girlfriend but I don’t care because I’m here now and he will open this fucking door if I have to stand here screaming until daybreak. It doesn’t occur to me to check the doorknob for a good five minutes, but then I do, and it’s unlocked, and I push the door open slowly.

I don’t see him right away, because he is laying facedown on the floor in front of his armchair.

“Oh My God, GENE?!?”

I keep yelling his name but he’s still as stone, and when I crouch down next to him I can’t tell whether or not he’s breathing. I check for a pulse and find one, and that’s when I smell the whiskey.

“Jesus Christ, Gene,” I say, but I’m talking to myself because he is absolutely catatonic.

Someone who drinks less than I do would probably have called an ambulance, but I don’t because I know what this is. There is an empty bottle of Dewar’s on the table and the TV screen is that too-bright blue that pops up when you’ve passed out with a tape in. I briefly wonder who still even has a VHS player but then I snap out of it because I know I need to take care of him.

It takes a while, and a few hard slaps across the face, but I manage to get him conscious. He smiles but I can’t tell if he even recognizes me. I’m forcing him to drink water, and he’s doing it but he seems like he doesn’t even know where he is. I have no idea how the fuck I am going to get this man upstairs but I know that he needs to vomit up some of the shit in his stomach or he might actually be in danger. He looks like he’s coming back to himself, slowly and not at all completely, but when I ask him if he can walk he looks up at me and says, “thank you.”

I hold my arms out, tell him to grab on to me and I manage to get him up off the floor. He’s leaning on me like dead weight and stumbling I don’t know if I’ll make it up the stairs but I put all my strength into it because he truly does need my help and I couldn’t leave him like this if I wanted to. I get him to the bathroom and tell him to splash some cold water on his face but before he can run the faucet he’s bent over the sink and retching everywhere.

I have to step outside for a minute. I can’t listen to people puking without feeling my own stomach start to upend itself, plus its not his finest hour and I want to give him as much privacy as I can while still making sure he’s breathing. But I hear a crash and when I rush back inside he’s knocked everything off the countertop and he’s on the verge of toppling over.

I curse and grab him before he falls and I sit him down on the toilet because he’s covered in his own filth and I need to clean him up a bit. The sink is filled with his mess and I try not to look at it while I wet a washcloth to wipe his face. When it’s as good as it’s gonna get for the night, I help him to his bed, and it is all strangely intimate. He lets me strip him of the t-shirt covered in booze sweat and puke and give him a fresh one to wear to bed. I get his pants off, and it’s not lost on me that it took a Grade-A blackout for him to let me undress him.

And then I realize that he never actually wanted me to come here—he took a page from my book, got shitfaced and said something he didn’t mean. Still, I’m not leaving him alone like this. He may not want me, but he needs me. After I get him tucked in and laying on his side, I prop him up with some pillows so he doesn’t roll on his back. I put the bathroom trashcan next to his bed and a fresh glass of water on his nightstand. He whispers something to me, but I can’t understand him.

“What is it, Gene?”

For the first time since I found him, his eyes seem to be in focus, and he looks at me and asks, “Are you an angel?”

He looks like a lost child and I smile because he is safe now. “Hardly,” I say, “now get some sleep.”

“Stay with me?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” I say, and I switch off his bedside lamp. “Just rest.”

I have decided I am going to spend the night here, on the couch, and in the morning I am going to make him talk to me, because it’s obvious to me that he is damaged, maybe beyond repair, and I want to know why. And I will tell him my own truth—the whole truth, even the part no one knows but me and God. Maybe we can help each other, or maybe we’ll never see each other again, but I need answers and I’m going to get them.

I settle in on the couch facing the TV but I’m terrible with remotes and I can’t get it to switch to cable from the VCR. I find myself wondering what he was watching because I’m almost positive it’s porn and I want to know what kind. You can tell a lot about a man by the type of porn he watches, so I press eject and go look at the tape. It is unlabeled and now I’m absolutely certain it’s porn, so I hit rewind and wait. Might as well watch from the beginning. I’m gonna be here for a while. I’m willing to bet it’s some ridiculous thing like Weapons of Ass Destruction or Ass Blasters: Volume 11, but something is nagging at me—maybe it’s just the mustache, or maybe it’s the way he reacted to finding Annie’s room, but when I hear the tape click and press play I close my eyes and pray to God that it’s not kiddie porn.

I hear three beeps and a familiar voice before I open my eyes. It is not pornography.

Don’t let false allegations bully you into an unfair fight. Hi, I’m Saul Goodman, and I’ll do the fighting for you. No charge is too big for me. When legal forces have you cornered, Better Call Saul!

I don’t understand what I’m looking at, because this is most definitely Gene but it’s an entirely different man. At first I think maybe he used to be an actor, that this is some sort of comedy reel. He’s like a sleazy clown and everything about him and the set is garish. He’s so over the top that I have to laugh.

I’ll get your case dismissed. I’ll give you the defense you deserve. Why? Because I’m Saul Goodman, attorney at law. I investigate, advocate, persuade, and most importantly, WIN WIN WIN! Better Call Saul!

It’s like a perfect parody of those cheap late-night-TV ads for ambulance chasers, and I think for a moment, this is absolutely genius and what are you doing here working at a Cinnabon when you should be in L.A. making comedy gold? But the tape just keeps going and going.

Do you feel doomed? Have opponents of freedom wrongly intimidated you? Maybe they told you that you’re in serious trouble and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m Saul Goodman and I’m here to tell you that THEY’RE WRONG. It’s never too late for justice. Better Call Saul!

When I’m about ten commercials in, I just know. I don’t know how, but I know that this is not a joke: however absurd, these are real commercials, made by a New Mexico lawyer named Saul Goodman, and Saul Goodman is wearing Gene’s face and his voice. He’s different, though—he’s confident, arrogant even, and he looks like a real scumbag but it’s inexplicably attractive to me. Maybe it’s because I have caught Gene in a lie of omission as bad if not worse than my own.

I can’t help myself. I have to Google him, so I pull out my phone and type “saul goodman lawyer new mexico” into the search bar. When I see the first news result pop up I feel all the heat drain from my body.

Heisenberg Lawyer Still Missing, Presumed Dead

For a while, everything stops. I can’t hear any sound except a dull ringing in my ears. All the information I remember about Heisenberg the kingpin chemistry teacher is rushing back to me. It was a national story, in all the papers and on all the cable news networks, but the news depresses me so I usually avoid it in favor of cooking shows and reality TV. I think it can’t possibly be him. There must be a lot of Saul Goodmans running around New Mexico, practicing law.

It’s not him. It can’t be him. But when I click the link for the article, there’s a picture.

I drop my phone on the ground and stare down at it because I do not want to read any more. I should be afraid. I should be terrified, and I should be leaving and driving to the police station. But I’m not. Instead, I’m running up the stairs to Gene’s bedroom, turning on the light and throwing a full glass of water on his face. I’m beating on his shoulders and his chest and screaming at him to wake up and he’s fighting me on it and trying to pull the covers up.

There’s only one thing left to do, so I slap him as hard as I can, straight across his face, and he cries out, “Jesus,” and puts his hand to his cheek. He looks up at me and there’s anger and confusion and fear in his face. I am eerily calm as I look down at him and say, “Who the fuck is Saul Goodman?”

Chapter Text

I sit in my car a block from her house, trying to take control of my panic. I practice deep breathing; I recite the alphabet in my head over and over; I remind myself that I am not dying, even though I’m not entirely sure that’s true. Maybe this was inevitable, but seeing that girl’s room so obviously stained by death was my breaking point. It forces me to remember things that I’ve tried my hardest to forget—things that remind me how consummately irredeemable I am, things that make me feel like dying.

When I think about where it all went wrong, the easy answer is, of course, the day that Walter Hartwell White walked into my office. But deep down I know that’s not the truth. I was involved in a lot of nasty shit before I ever hitched my wagon to that psycho. There’s one thing I know for sure, though: the day I passed the point of all redemption was the day I learned the truth, or some vague version of the truth, about how Drew Sharp met his maker.

When Pinkman showed up with that big bag of money for the Sharps, I knew. He looked like a battered puppy and I knew that somehow, some way, Walt was responsible for that boy going “missing.” And I know what “missing” means where Walter White is concerned. It means a 50-gallon drum filled with hydrofluoric acid. It means no evidence. It means that when someone goes missing, they stay missing. Walter didn’t stand for loose ends, and if he wasn’t burning in some pit of hell right now, I know I would probably have ended up as the main ingredient in one of his macabre chemistry experiments.

I maintain plausible deniability when it comes to the Cantillo kid. I lifted that cigarette for Pinkman’s own good. He was unstable and erratic, and he could have very easily used it on himself during one of his all-too-frequent benders. I didn’t want that to happen, so when Walter insisted I put Huell on it, I agreed. I truly believed he wanted it for Fring, or some other heavy hitter that would have deserved it. Call me naïve, but I simply couldn’t believe that Walter White, father of two, would poison a child to win whatever game he was playing. So I did what he asked, because I thought it was for the best. I still don’t know what he did to Brock or how the hell he did it, but I know it wasn’t the ricin so, theoretically, I am blameless.

Drew Sharp was different. For the first time in a long time, I felt that I may actually have morals. I felt an obligation to that poor kid and his parents. I felt like I needed to give them closure, no matter what that meant for the rest of us. But in the end, of course, I didn’t say a word, and there’s not a doubt in my mind that I’m going to spend eternity burning for it. If Satan’s sense of humor is anything like mine, I’ll be right next to the almighty Heisenberg.

I’m thinking about all these things as I drive around Omaha in the darkness before dawn. My shift will start all too soon and I don’t know how I’m going to make it through another day as Gene the Cinnabon Manager. I have no choice, though, because skipping shifts draws attention and my job now is to stay in the background. I smell like sex and I know I have to shower but I don’t want to wash her off. It seems so final, because I know I can never see her again—not after all the things I’ve done, not after sneaking off in the night like the complete piece of trash that I am. Whatever it was, it’s over now, and maybe it was inevitable, but I certainly fucked it up prematurely. She’ll hate me when she wakes up, as she should, but it’s probably all for the best.

When I get home I strip and stand naked in front of the shower but I can’t make myself go in. I do, though, because life has to go on, but I can’t stop myself from crying when the water starts to erase her from my fingers and my mustache and the rest of the parts that touched her. I feel like I’m in mourning and I let it happen. Having a good ugly cry in the shower is one of my favorite pastimes of late, and this is a better reason than most for letting myself feel pain. I deserve this endless sadness. I was an idiot to think that I could have something good, and even more idiotic to think I could keep it.

Work is a waking nightmare today and I am being haunted by a series of unfriendly ghosts. First there’s the punk kid with the buzzcut and the neck tattoo. Then there’s the old man buying his granddaughter a treat. Then the bald bulldog of a security guard and the parade of tall blondes. The worst of all of them, though, is the suit in the bright pink shirt, blathering into his Bluetooth about things that sound urgent and important. His cologne is strong and smells like success, and suddenly I’m angry. I have to take my break right after he leaves because, for the first time in a long, long time, I have an intense, unbearable craving for a cigarette.

The smokes I bought are still in the car and I know I’ve got matches somewhere so I throw my coat on, tell the girls to mind the store, and head to the parking lot. I can see my breath in the air when I walk outside and the need for nicotine gets even stronger. I need this small comfort. I need it right goddamn now because everything is terrible and it will feel good for a little while. If I’m lucky, it will speed up my inevitable demise. When I take my first drag, I forget for a split-second that I am me. It feels good and bad at the same time and when I finish the first, I light another even though my throat burns. I decide, fuck it, I’ll start smoking again, because why the hell not?

When my shift is over, I don’t want to go home. I know if I go home I’ll pour a drink, and then another, and when I’ve had a few I’ll text her or call her crying or some other pathetic shit because I feel this incessant need to keep trying even when the situation is completely FUBAR. A wiser man would know when to cut his losses, but there’s something inside me that is convinced that if there’s a problem, I can solve it. Some would call it narcissism, others delusion; me, I like to chalk it up to my indomitable spirit.

But I cannot solve the problem that is Santa, and I shouldn’t even try because it’s selfish and almost cruel of me to want to be with her. So I drive around in my shitbox car, chain smoking and listening to classic rock, and I when I reach the outskirts of the outskirts of Omaha, I almost keep driving. There’s nothing here for me, but I turn around and head home instead because there’s nothing for me anywhere else.

I know that tonight I need to take certain precautions against the drunken incarnation of myself, so when I pull in I turn off my phone and put it in the mailbox. That seems like as good an idea as any, and it hurts me just enough to get my mind off of her and onto my bottle of Dewar’s. I settle in to my armchair, cut off from the rest of the world, and watch my former self in all his technicolor glory. One day this tape won’t play anymore, and over the course of half a bottle I decide that that will be the day I die.

I don’t know when I passed out. All I know is that I wake up in my clothes on the couch with a real bitch of a headache and a feeling in the pit of my stomach that is half nausea, half dread. It settles when I find that my phone is still in it’s hiding place, but I check it anyway because I am occasionally a clever drunk and may have just used it and then put it back in some ill-conceived attempt to trick myself. The texts don’t come up right away, but when they do they hit me all at once. I can hear her voice in my head and it’s vicious.

I don’t know what possessed me to think I’d never hear from her again. She’s not the type that would let my little transgression go without a few choice words for me in return. I let myself smile a little because her texts are cruel but fair and, to me, this is what passion looks like. It hurts me, sure, but as fucked up as it is, it feels good to know that she actually cared. She has said everything that I already know about myself. She’s finally realized that she is a far better woman than I deserve and this is a good thing, I think. I did her a favor by leaving and one day she will thank Christ I did.

It’s my day off, and usually I would run a few errands in the morning and at least try to wait until it starts to get dark for my first taste. What makes me drink my breakfast today is not her cutting remarks on my manhood or my pride. I pour my first glass because I realize that I really do need human contact to survive and I’m never going to get it. I’m doomed to rot in this town, alone, for the rest of my life. The only thing I have control over is how long that life is. I drink because she’s right: I am a coward, and I want to kill myself slowly. If I had any balls whatsoever, I’d just end it now, because this isn’t a life. I am a worthless husk of a man, and a miserable one. I don’t deserve to keep living when innocent children die because of other people’s selfishness and greed.

I’ve got a quarter-bottle of scotch left, which is not nearly enough, and I work through it glass by glass in absolute silence. My thoughts are too loud today and I need to quiet them, and to do that, I’m going to need to take a trip to the liquor store. I am drunk, but not too drunk, and even though I know how wrong it is, I drive there with a buzz on. I tell myself, it’s only five minutes each way and what could possibly happen, but I know things now that I didn’t know before. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put it together: dead kid, hates drunk driving, ergo… I could be wrong about what happened, but I doubt it.

Even with my glasses on the road signs are fuzzy and I know that I’m doing this because she’d hate me for it. I’m pretty sure she already hates me, but I need to solidify it even though she’ll probably never know about this little joyride. It reminds me that I’m a scumbag who does shitty selfish things, that I don’t care about how my actions affect people, that I’m a weak, broken man and I’ll never turn it around. I think maybe, if I’m lucky, the cops will pull me over and the jig will be up. If I’m luckier, I’ll drive into a goddamn tree.

But my luck has run out, and now I’m back at home with a fresh supply of poison and I’ve decided to play a game of chance: I will drain this new bottle by the time I go to bed and see if I wake up or not. I’ll leave it in God’s hands and see how things shake out. It’s not a very fun game, but it’s something to do, and after I force down a few slices of pizza, my brain starts churning out scenarios in which I am not an enormous fuck-up. It’s not uncommon for my mind to wander into alternate universes where I’m actually a decent guy. I roll with it out of sheer boredom.

I sit in my armchair and close my eyes and in my mind I am charming and magnetic and everyone wants to be my friend. Of all the women clamoring for a piece of me, I choose Santa. She is good to me and I am good to her, and I’m honest with her because this version of me has nothing to hide. I’m a dynamite lover, too, because she deserves only the very best, and if I wasn’t so drunk I’d have a massive erection thinking about the hours I could spend in bed with her at world-class hotels in exotic locales.

But then something shifts in me and I get angry and it’s all directed at her. She made me feel things I didn’t want to feel. She made me want things I can’t have. I was powerless against her and now the man in my head is calling her a lying slut and a whore and telling her she got what was coming to her. He makes her cry and enjoys it.

Sometimes I go a smidge too far and it feels so wrong that it snaps me back to reality. I pour another drink and the man in my head apologizes. Now I’m pleading with her, making up excuses and telling half-truths as to why in the hell a man like me would leave a woman like her, but even in my waking dreams I can’t tell her the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That is the line between fantasy and nightmare.

I don’t know exactly when it happens but I’ve ditched my glass in favor of slamming scotch straight from the bottle. The videotape is rolling and I don’t remember putting it on but that doesn’t matter because I get to watch myself again—tangible proof that I once achieved greatness, although I suppose that depends on one’s definition of the word. For a long time, it was mine, and I close my eyes and try to remember what it felt like to be that man—to hoard success and power and flaunt it at every turn, to be the type of man who commands attention and revels in it.

My sense memory kicks in and I remember the way my life used to smell: stacks of money in a safe, a batch of freshly laundered shirts from the cleaners, the leather interior of a Caddy parked in the sun. There are other smells, too: the dry earth of the desert, burnt gunpowder and the metallic tang of someone else’s blood. My own blood has a different odor and I can taste it more than I can smell it. It is bitter, with a hint of cinnamon.

I keep a loaded .45 in a gym bag in my bedroom closet, though I very rarely touch it. There was that one time a few days after I moved in when I was convinced I’d seen a suspicious fellow lurking outside my place late at night. Then there was that long night a few months later when I took it out and held it just to see what I would do. I put it back, of course, and I haven’t touched it since, but now I feel like there’s a magnet pulling me out of my chair and up the stairs. Now the gun is out of its case and my eyes are closed and I can taste the metal in my mouth, but I remind myself this is not the game I’m playing tonight, and I tuck it away until next time. I go outside and smoke three cigarettes, and when I’m back in my chair I’m dizzy and I can’t remember if I locked the door. I can’t bring myself to get up because I can’t bring myself to give a damn.

The last thing I remember before I feel a presence in the room is draining the bottle with a few large gulps, looking at the clock, and laughing because it was four in the afternoon and I’d already finished the bottle. I don’t remember falling on the floor but I’m here now and I can hear a voice or voices but they are far away and my eyes refuse to stay in focus. I am drinking water and it feels good and I say “thank you” to whatever is giving it to me. I feel myself slipping away again and I let it happen because this is phase two of the game. I don’t know where I am and I think this is what dying must feel like—this vertigo and confusion, not knowing whether you’re going up or down and fighting whatever is guiding you. I realize I don’t know what constitutes winning or losing the game and I throw up in what looks like a sink, but there’s no sink on the floor of my living room so that can’t possibly be what happened.

It doesn’t matter, though, because now it is here and it’s helping me. I can’t really see it but it seems like it’s glowing and it reminds me of the paintings of angels that adorned all the walls of my childhood. I don’t know whether it’s the Angel of Mercy or the Angel of Death, but either way it’s caring for me and I’m starting to feel better. I let whatever is happening happen and I feel strangely safe. I’m enveloped in some sort of cloud now and this ethereal being is looking down at me. I ask if it’s an angel because I want to know if angels are real. I don’t care which one it is; I just want it to stay with me until the end of this, whatever it might be. Now my eyes are heavy and I feel myself sinking, and then there’s nothing for a long time.

I wake up soaked and my face stings like a motherfucker. My angel is standing in front of me, but she has a human form now and that human is angry and I know that something is very, very wrong. Death would be kinder than the way she stares daggers at me and asks me, scarily calm, the question that fuels the worst of my nightmares.

“Who the fuck is Saul Goodman?”

Chapter Text

There is nothing but silence and the thumping of my heart in my chest as I glare at Gene—hands on my hips, face stone cold. I try to drain all emotion from my face but I’m shaking and he’s just sitting there, staring at me with his mouth open and no words coming out.

“Start talking,” I say. I hear my voice wavering as I speak. “Now, or I’m calling the police.”

I reach into my back pocket for my phone, to show him I’m serious, but it’s not there. It is downstairs on the floor where I’d thrown it. I feel like I should have it on me, in case something happens, and I know now I’m afraid of him. It’s almost funny because he’s the last person in the world that should elicit fear, but even though I know nothing about him, I have the feeling I already know too much.

I do not know this man staring back at me. I do not know what he is capable of. I should leave now and I know it, but I need answers. Every cell in my body is screaming “run” but I move toward him anyway, and now I’m standing over him at his bedside. I make myself stare him straight in the eyes because I’m searching for something in those baby blues—some type of evil, something cold and frightening. But all I see is fear and a deep sadness, and then he starts to cry.

He whispers, “I’m so sorry,” and he hides his face in his hands. I can’t help the maternal urge that comes over me because even though he’s twice my size, he looks so small to me now. When I see someone in so much pain, I want to make it go away, and he looks like a frightened little boy who is lost and needs my help. I shouldn’t touch him but I do, trying to ignore the possibility that this man might kill me.

I kneel in front of him and pull his hands away from his face—gently, with small movements—and he lets me. He does not look at me, just wipes his eyes, and I beg him to just please talk to me. All my movements are slow and deliberate and it occurs to me that I am waiting for him to snap into self-preservation mode and attack me like some sort of threatened animal. He doesn’t, though, and that’s when I know that he is a truly broken man.

I need to know what broke him, partly because I need to know what I’ve gotten myself into but mostly because, despite everything, I still care. I have a horrible habit of caring for people who don’t deserve it, and it always bites me in the ass in the end, but there are some things we can’t change about ourselves. I place my hands on his knees and I wait, and it seems like hours before he finally speaks.

“I’ve done terrible things,” he says. “I’m not a good man.” He looks at me with bloodshot eyes. “You should leave.”

He’s right, of course, but I tell him no. I tell him to please just tell me the truth and let me decide if I want to walk away. He owes me that. This is, of course, presuming he will let me walk away, but I can’t think about that now. Now is the time for awful truths. I have one of my own, and if he’s willing to confess his sins to me, I swear to God I will respond in kind.

He breaks the silence. “You’ll hate me if you know.”

I would tell him I already hate him but I know that isn’t true. I whisper in his ear, “Just let it out, Gene,” and he sighs deep and puts his face in his hands.

It is the moment of truth and consequences and after a pregnant pause he says something I can’t make out.

“What was that?” I ask.

“My name isn’t Gene,” he says, and he looks at me. “And it isn’t Saul Goodman. It’s Jimmy… well, James. McGill.”

“Nice to meet you, Jimmy." I take his hand and shake it. "Now talk to me.”

“I don’t even know where to start,” he says. “I really don’t.”

“Yes, you do,” I say, and then he turns to me.

“Have you seen The Godfather?”

I raise an eyebrow at him because I could recite it line-for-line on the spot.

“Right. Obviously you have. Anyway, I’m a lawyer… well, I was a lawyer. I was that kind of lawyer.”

I tell him I watched his commercials and he sighs.

“I figured as much. How much do you know?”

“Enough,” I say, “but I want to know what I don’t know. I need the truth, Jimmy.”

He smiles for a just a moment but it’s a sad smile and it fades quickly.

“It’s been a long time since someone’s called me Jimmy. It’s been a long time since I’ve been Jimmy. But you want to know about Saul, right?”

“That’s a start,” I say, because I want to know everything, beginning to end.

But I’ll take what he’s giving me for now because Saul Goodman is the reason I’m here, cross-legged on his bed, listening to him tell a story filled with a lot of familiar names and a lot of unfamiliar ones. It’s all too much, really—so over the top that I wouldn’t believe him if I couldn’t see in his eyes that he is finally being honest after years of lies. He is a man unburdening himself, speaking lightning fast like he needs to get this poison out before it kills him. It takes true focus to keep up with him but I manage it despite the shock of some of the truly awful things I’m hearing.

He catalogues his sins and confesses them to me, each one worst than the last, and I listen quietly. Sometimes I can look at him and sometimes I have to turn away and stare a hole through the headboard behind him. A few times I feel positively sick but I stay put because I promised myself I wouldn’t judge him. I am not without sin. I have not led a perfect, godly life. I have done things—horrible things I can’t take back. I am no angel.

When he’s found himself in Omaha, he stops speaking after what must have been over an hour. I think he must be done, and now I’m processing everything and my mind is ready to burst and I’m trying to think of what to say, because what is the “right” thing to say in this situation? What is the “wrong” thing? This man has done a lot of terrible things to save his own skin and I find myself wondering if the wrong thing might buy me a ticket to a shallow grave out in the Plains.

Even so, I have a thousand questions that I want to ask him. I want to know who else knows he’s here, and if anyone is after him, and how the hell he could just disappear and leave behind the (admittedly few) people who might care about him. That’s what gets me the most—his great escape, leaving only destruction and unanswered questions in his wake. It angers me and it makes me sad at the same time, because it’s both selfish and tragic that he believes no one would miss him.

“There’s one more thing,” he says. I can tell he’s crying again without having to look, because I can’t look. Not yet.

“What is it?” I ask, but I have a feeling I don’t want to know—that he’s saved the worst for last, and that there is no coming back from whatever “the worst” is.

He takes a deep breath.

“There was a boy,” he says. “His name was Drew Sharp.”

Every muscle in my body tenses up because I know that name. I know that name very well. The news is always disturbing to me in some way or another, but I’m always the most bothered by the missing child cases the media loves to exploit for ratings. I remember this boy: the boy who went missing in the desert, no trace. I remember his parents on the news, pleading for information about their son and growing more and more hopeless until one day they disappeared because nobody cared anymore.

I whisper, “Oh Jesus,” because I can’t help myself. “Please tell me you didn’t-”

“I didn’t. I’m a lot of things, but a murderer is not one of them. ” He pauses before he says, very quietly, “I know who did, though.” The bed is shaking because now he’s sobbing. “I never told anyone. I should have told someone.”

I should run away. I should get as far away from this man as I possibly can, call the police, give the Sharps the closure that they need and deserve, but I don’t. Instead, I take his hand and say, “so tell me.”

No one would have ever known there’s a connection between him and that lost boy—I certainly wouldn’t have—but he tells me anyway. He gives me the uncensored, ugliest possible truth, and it horrifies me. I stay perfectly still and I listen to him tell me about men who kill children without remorse, without even the decency to leave a body behind for the family to bury. Men he knows. Men he helped.

I’m dizzy now and I think I might throw up. I tell him I need some air.

“You should just go,” he says. “It’s okay. I won’t stop you. I know I’m finished.”

“We’re not finished here,” I say, and then I turn to him. “Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.”

“Are you going to have me killed? Like, if I go outside for a minute, are you going to call a guy who knows a guy and make me disappear?”

He looks at me like I’ve just punched him in the gut. “I would never hurt you,” he says. “Hand to God. The worst thing that will happen if you leave is I sit on the floor and eat my gun, and let’s be honest, that might actually be for the best.”

I wouldn’t normally take a comment like that seriously but I actually believe him, and because I believe him a whole new fear sets it.

“You have a gun in here?”

“Yes.”

“Is it loaded?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve had a loaded gun in this room this entire time you’ve been sitting here swearing up and down that you’re not a dangerous guy, that you’re just the lawyer who helps the people with the guns?”

“Yes,” he says, “but I swear it’s just-”

“Shut the fuck up. Where is it? Give it to me.”

“I’d never-”

“Shut UP and tell me where the gun is. I’m serious. And don’t you fucking move.”

“It’s in the closet,” he says, and he sounds resigned to whatever fate I decide for him. “In the black gym bag.”

I’m comfortable with guns, just not when they are loaded and in the home of a wanted criminal with suicidal tendencies. I take it out and disarm it quickly while he sits frozen on the bed, watching me. I have a lot of conflicting feelings about Jimmy/Saul/Gene right now, but if I know one thing for sure, it’s that this man should not have a loaded gun in his possession.

“I’m taking this,” I say. He just nods. On my way out I notice the cigarettes on the floor next to his pants and I pick them up. “These too.”

Downstairs I grab my phone and put the gun and bullets in my purse. I take everything with me outside because I don’t yet know whether I’m leaving for good and I can’t decide without a cigarette. I need a fucking cigarette as badly as I ever have before, even though my smoking days ended with my teenage rebellion phase. I’d made a singular exception when my daughter died. I knew where Paul kept his Marlboros hidden and the night after she was gone I sat at the kitchen table at 3 in the morning, smoking an entire pack in silence. When the sun came up and I was finished, I threw up in the trashcan and I haven’t touched one since.

I feel the same now as I did then. I’m numb, but it’s not the frigid air. I’m sick, but it’s not the nicotine. I think about the man upstairs—James M. McGill, Esq.—and what he might be doing. It occurs to me that I may be the only person alive who knows this man’s truth, and I barely know him at all. I think of what I might do, if I were in his position—alone, crushed by the weight of unmentionable things, on the run but standing still. I think about my own sins and lies, and how it would feel to confess them.

Because I know what it feels like to hold a dark secret—the answer to a question that other people need answered. It is self-preservation at its most destructive, and it eats you from the inside. He has let his secret go, and I want to do the same. I need forgiveness, too, and I think maybe I was meant to meet this man, because if there’s one person in the world that can’t judge me for what I did, it’s Slippin’ Jimmy McGill.

Chapter Text

I’m glad she’s here. This is the first thing that crosses my mind as I look at Santa standing next to my bed. Her question is still ringing in my ears, though, and somehow through the foggy pounding nightmare that is my head, I put the sound and the person together and I freeze.

Oh. Oh no.

The jig is up. I’m done. I can’t say I haven’t thought about the possibility that this day would come, but I thought I’d have more time—time to work through what I would say to her about my former lives. I would have practiced in the mirror, rehearsed my lines, been as comfortable as I could be. I’d have put on a hell of a show.

I don’t know how in Christ she found me out but it doesn’t matter because I’m looking at her and she’s afraid. She’s angry as all hell, too, but she’s afraid of me, and that hurts me in a way I haven’t been hurt in a long time. I don’t care that I’m busted; if I’m honest, it’s kind of a relief. But I never meant for this to happen—not to her. She’s threatening to call the cops and she should. She really should. I don’t even know why she’s still here.

The reality of this situation is sobering me up fast and I’m searching for something to say to get myself off the hook—some convenient lie, some long-winded-yet-plausible explanation for a mere misunderstanding—but there’s nothing there. I don’t have the mind for it anymore. The well of bullshit has gone dry. There nothing left to say but the truth, and I’m not nearly ready for that. I know I owe it to her, but I’ve never been able to give her what she needs and I can’t seem to break the habit.

She’s coming closer to me, though, and now she’s so close I can feel the heat coming off her. I look up at her and she’s searching for the truth in me. I can only imagine what I must look like to her now that she knows the awful mistake she’s made. I stare back at her with a lump in my throat and I want to tell her she never has to be afraid of me. Instead I start to cry and squeak out a vague apology. I’ve got my face in my hands and I’m waiting for her to start yelling, maybe smack me around to get the truth out of me, but now she’s kneeling down in front of me and she touches me and it’s almost too much.

I can’t think. My thoughts empty out and its nothing but sensation: the smell of her hair, the rush of cold up my neck, the heat from her fingertips, wet tears on burning cheeks, and the sound—almost impossibly loud—of her begging me. I’m acutely conscious of my heart working overtime, and then I feel it start to happen. I can’t look at her, because the world’s most ill-timed erection is knocking at the door and I can’t let him in.

I dig my nails into my palms and I focus on the pain, and for a second I think about pushing her away. I don’t, though—I can’t—because she is being kinder and gentler than I deserve and the last thing I want is to scare her. By the grace of God, my uninvited guest disappears, and a better man than I would start spilling his guts right about now. Not me, though. Not yet.

I finally look at her and I tell her some truths—that I’m a bad guy, that she should leave—but she won’t listen. She’s stubborn as always and she’s decided that she is the one who gets to decide what happens here. It’s fair, but it’s unwise, and I need her to know I’m not worth this poor decision she’s making.

I say, “you’ll hate me if you know,” because this is also true. I can't lie to her anymore; I physically can’t do it. The feel and sound and smell of her is hypnotic and I simply cannot tell a lie. When she whispers in my ear, her lips brush against me and I need to let it out. I tell her my names, and I wait, and she does the most unexpected thing.

She’s always been full of surprises and I don’t know what I expected but it wasn’t this. She takes my hand and shakes it, and I feel like I’m at a client meeting until she calls me Jimmy. “Nice to meet you, Jimmy” —like it’s the most natural thing in the world. No one’s called me by my real name in… Christ, I don’t even know how long. It’s been even longer since I could recognize any part of Jimmy in myself. It feels strange to be Jimmy McGill again but she makes it easier. She makes me want to do the right thing.

So I tell her everything, and I start with Slippin’ Jimmy.

I don’t glorify the things I did, even though back then it was just running bullshit scams on a bunch of dupes for easy cash. I tell her straight-up I was a con man, that I never really stopped being a con man even though I tried playing it straight for a while. I consider skipping over those years because James M. McGill, Esq. is irrelevant to the topic at hand, but I end up telling her because I need her to know that there was a time, however brief, when I was trying to be a good man.

“I did what I could, you know? I worked hard, nose to the grindstone, and I tried to show everyone that I wasn’t the person they thought I was—that people can change. But people don’t change, at least not for the better. Chuck was right about me all along and I was too blind to see it.”

I look up at her, just for a second, and I can see the look in her eye—it looks almost like pity and it’s much more than I deserve. I think that maybe she’ll start asking questions now, that she is incapable of suppressing that inquisitive nature, that she’ll open that mouth of hers and grill me. I’d deserve it, but she doesn’t. She is silent and the silence is thunderous and I have to wet my lips before I continue the E! True Hollywood Story of James Morgan McGill.

I begin again: “For a long time I was so hung up on the fact that I was wronged, you know? It’s easy to backslide into shit when you feel like someone’s pushing you. But that’s a load of crap. I know that now. That was just the lie I told myself to excuse all the terrible shit I did out of… I don’t know. Greed? Envy? Pride? Wrath? Take your pick, it’s all there.”

I sigh and she looks away from me. She hasn’t said a word for a long time and presumably she is thinking about my many sins and how many more she can stand to hear. I haven’t even touched on the worst of it, though. I’ve only scratched the surface of Saul Goodman.

“I was into a lot of shit before I ever even met Walter White, or ‘Heisenberg’ or whatever the hell you want to call him, and I could sit here and tell you that I got wrapped up in something out of my control but that’s bullshit, too. The fact is, Walter White always thought he was the smartest guy in the room, but when he came to me, he didn’t have a fucking clue what he was doing.”

I pause for a moment because I’m not ready to admit this truth to her or to myself. But my day of judgment has come and she is here to take my confession.

“I started it. Me. He would have fucked it all up in a matter of months and ended up dead or in jail, but I saw a cash cow sitting right in front of me and I wanted in on the action. So I took him on and I told him what to do. Every step of the way, every fuck-up, he came to me and I did what I could to keep him in business because I wanted my cut. People were getting hurt, people were dying, but I told myself, ‘Hey, I’m just the lawyer, right? This is America. Even criminals need representation.’”

She’s disgusted, as she should be, and it keeps me going because I need her to understand the depth of my depravity. If she sees me for who I am, she will leave and go to the police and this whole thing will be over, one way or another. Of course, in my heart I know I’m not going back to jail. I’m never going back to jail. I just need her to leave so I can choose my own ending.

It seems to me that the thing to do is go above and beyond what she needs to know. I lay out all the gory details of the Heisenberg mess, things even the cops would never know to ask about. I give her everything—names, places, crimes, punishments—and all the while I’m waiting for her to stand up and walk out because this is some truly awful shit she’s hearing and it only gets worse the longer I talk.

She’s still sitting cross-legged on the bed by the time I get to Omaha. I’m not finished, though she doesn’t know that. I saved Drew Sharp’s fate for last because I need her to leave me and never look back. There is no universe in which Santa would forgive me for what I did with that child. There’s none where I’d forgive myself, either, and I start to cry because this is the end right here and I know it. Saying out loud is going to make it too real for the both of us.

“There was a boy…”

She recognizes the name, as I expected she might. For the first time in what feels like hours she is speaking to me and, good Christ, she thinks I killed that boy. I snap at her because I can’t help it. For a split-second I actually feel fucking indignant that she would think I could murder a child. Of course, it doesn’t take long to realize I must seem like exactly the type of man who would do that. I tell her I know who did it, and now I’m sobbing and heaving because it’s time—time to own my weakest moment and confess my darkest crime. It is time to tell her about the thing that proved to me, once and for all, that I was never and will never be a good man.

“I never told anyone. I should have told someone.”

Then she takes my hand so softly, and I feel it everywhere, and she whispers, “so tell me,” and I do. I tell her all of it—all the gruesome details, all the things that still make my stomach churn to think about. I’ve never said any of it out loud in this way: sequentially, at length, uncensored. I note the moment I see the color drain from her face and it comes as no surprise to me. What they did to that body would make anyone go white as my sheets. She can’t look at me anymore and I expect her to turn to the side and throw up any second but she’s stock-still, just listening to me tell her my truth.

And the truth is this: there’s a shitload to choose from but more than any of my other sins, sitting there at the top of the heap is Drew Sharp. I had never fully given up on myself until that kid, but afterwards I knew for sure: I am a man without integrity, a man with no code. I’m a weak man—a fucking coward—and I deserve to burn.

She tells me she needs air when what she needs to do is run, not walk, as far away from my sorry ass as possible. But when I tell her as much, she still won’t listen. She knows the truth now and she still won’t go, and I just don’t understand it. I suppose if she has questions, she deserves answers, but I can’t imagine wanting to stick around long enough to ask them knowing what she now knows.

“Can I ask you something?” she says, and I say, “Anything,” because I will answer.

She asks if I’m going to have her killed and I can’t blame her. But this is it—my new lowest moment—and I feel like I might be sick. There’s no reason for her to believe it, but I would never hurt her, and I tell her so. I tell her I’d rather die, but I manage to fuck that up too, because now she thinks I’ve been hiding a gun from her and she’s not entirely wrong.

The way she looks at me when she puts those pieces together—I almost don’t recognize her. She looks frightening. She looks cold. She looks like she could kill me and not regret it. I’ve been waiting for this look but I thought it would have come much earlier than this, and for different reasons. I tell her where the gun is because she is in charge now and I’m fine with whatever she decides.

I’ve had a lot of guns pointed at me by a lot of different people, and I always did whatever I could—all variety of lying, finagling, and double-dealing—to wriggle out of trouble. I would happily take a bullet from her, I’d welcome it even, but it would mean dragging her deep into this mess and I want her as far away from it as possible. Of course, it’s impossible now that she knows everything. I’ve put my stain on her and it will never come out. I find myself hoping that the Angel of Mercy and the Angel of Death are real, all wrapped up in her.

For the first time in a long time, I silently pray to God, “Please give her the strength to end this.”

That’s not Santa, though. She disarms my gun like a pro, and there was a time that would have turned me on, but right now I’m just numb and confused as to why she’s not pointing it at my head and pulling the trigger. Instead, she tells me she’s taking my gun away from me. She looks more pissed than afraid now, and she takes my cigarettes for good measure even though I wish she’d left one for me. I couldn’t look at a drink right now to save my life and I need something—some artificial relief—because even though I finally laid all my shit on the table, there was nothing cathartic about it.

After a minute, I hear the front door slam shut and I wait for her car to start but there’s nothing. I know without having to look that she’s still here, that she doesn’t plan on leaving. It’s not over yet, and I honestly don’t know how I feel about that. It’s beyond selfish of me to want her to stay but I can’t help it: I’m a selfish man and she’s the only good thing left in my world.

The room is icy without her and emptier than it’s ever been. She brought a warmth with her, a kindness, and now it’s stark and cold and gray in here again and I need to get out. At the very least, I need a glass of water. I find the awful mess I left in the bathroom and shut the door quickly because another second of that smell and I’ll start dry heaving. I know I need to go downstairs but I’m scared of what I might find.

What if she’s there? What if she’s not?

She’s not there but she’s not gone. I can see her silhouette pacing outside my window, smoking my cigarettes. I want to be outside with her, sharing a smoke like none of this ever happened—like I would have when I was just Gene the Cinnabon Manager and not James Morgan McGill, fugitive from justice. I can’t go out there, though. She wants to decide for herself what to do with me, I’m not gonna stop her.

So I do what I always do, with one exception: I sit in my armchair, rewind the tape, and start from the beginning. But instead of scotch, I drink water, and instead of drunken reminiscing, I take a sober, searching inventory. I had potential, once, before all of this. I could have been good if I’d had someone like Santa to keep my ass in line and make being good actually seem appealing. But even if I’d known her back then, I would have fucked it up. It’s not like there isn’t precedent for that. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have accepted her kindness then any more than I can now.

I’m a few commercials into my greatest hits when the door opens. I almost don’t turn to look because it could easily be the police but it’s her—just her—and she shushes me before I have a chance to say anything. She sits across from me on the couch and folds her hands in her lap, looking guilty but calm.

“My turn,” she says, and her smile puts ice in my veins. “You’re not the only one who can keep a secret.”

Chapter Text

I don’t know exactly when I decided I would tell him. It was long before this night, before I knew the dark secrets he’d been keeping from me. At some point along the way, I decided that I trusted him, and from there it was only a matter of time. It’s not about trust anymore, though, because my trust is shaky at best right now. It’s about repentance, forgiveness, and hopefully catharsis.

I open the door and he’s sitting there, watching that goddamn tape, and when he turns to me I silence him with a brisk wave of my hand. He’s done enough talking, and I sit on the couch, facing him, and tell him it’s my turn to speak. I need to tell him the real story of that day, the one no one else knows or would ever know. Not for his benefit but my own, because I am starting to believe that maybe I was meant to meet this man who could never judge me for what I did, if only so I could have a brief, freeing moment.

I smile, not because what I’m about to say is pleasant, but because I need this release and I am ready for it. After all this time and so many lies, I’m ready. I could never tell these things to a priest, but I can tell them to Jimmy McGill.

“You’re not the only one who can keep a secret.”

He looks afraid and it pleases me. It’s a strange combination of endearing and empowering, and Lord knows I need the strength right now. He has no earthly idea what I’m about to tell him and on some level it feels good—this role-reversal, where I am the question mark and he’s the exclamation point. I carry things, too. Heavy things that I need to drop on someone who can handle it. I think he can. At least, I hope so.

I take a deep breath and I say, “I killed my daughter.”

I didn’t, of course—not technically—but that’s what it still feels like to me after all these years. I’m not blameless in the horrible thing that happened, and nobody knows this but me.

Until now, that is. Until Gene.

He slowly reaches for the remote and clicks the VCR off. He knows better than to speak now so he sits there staring at me, waiting. I can tell he doesn’t want to hear it. He needs me to be better than he is, and by most accounts I am, but I’ve come to think that maybe in God’s eyes we are the same. Either way, I want him to know that I am not the person he thinks I am. I can do bad things and get away with them, too.

My mortal sin is wrath and it always has been. I try to keep my face cold and my voice steady but I’m remembering the series of events that led to Annie’s death and I can feel that anger, long-buried but still festering in the pit of my chest. Whatever the source, I am capable of the kind of blind rage that makes people do horrible things.

“I was never a very good mother,” I say, “not because I didn’t love her. I did. I loved her more than anything. But I’ve always been a very angry person, and it’s that sort of fiery red anger that blinds you and doesn’t care who you unleash it on. The kind of anger that takes you over and consumes you and burns everything in its path.”

I pause for a moment because I have to. “She should never have seen me that way. It was never her fault. She was a good kid, but Paul…”

I shake my head and sigh. Paul was a great father and a terrible husband, and I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to the level of hatred I felt for him back then. It’s been seven years, and I like to tell myself I’ve let some of it go, but now it’s all coming back to me—every little dig and nasty offhand comment, all the times he belittled me and made me feel like the smallest person in the world, the way he took pleasure in my little outbursts of jealousy long before he started to cheat.

“I fucking hate him,” I say. “I hate him enough that I used to think that maybe I could kill him—that I was capable of that. I’m not. I know that now, but I used to fantasize about wrapping my hands around his neck and squeezing and watching his fucking eyes pop out of his head. It used to scare me, how angry I could get, and the fucked up things I’d think about doing to people. It still does, honestly.”

He looks uncomfortable and I think to myself, “Good,” because part of me enjoys making him squirm. It’s the same feeling I used to get in the confessional—that mixture of fear and pleasure I’d get telling the priest how bad I’d been that week. Back then I figured, if I couldn’t be a good girl, I should at least enjoy being bad. Thinking about it now, I realize how very little I’ve changed.

“Paul always had a wandering eye,” I say, because it’s time to get down to business. “He didn’t act on it until much later, but he never really bothered to hide it either. He liked it, I think—making me jealous of other women. I don’t know whether it made him feel like more of a man or if he just wanted me to feel grateful to have him but either way, he used to make these little comments—stuff about my weight or my appearance or about how I wasn’t as involved as the other moms. Not constantly, but just enough to make me feel like shit. And every time I would ask him to please stop saying those things he would look at me like I was crazy, tell me that I was taking it the wrong way, that he was just trying to motivate me.”

I’m running hot now, because I’m remembering that smug look on Paul’s face every time we had this argument, when he would say, “I think we both know you can do better.” He knew that would end the conversation, one way or another, and it always did, because deep down I knew that he was right. I could have been thinner, more put-together. I could have smiled more, been nicer to people. I could have been a better mother, chosen love over anger. But I never did, and now I’m paying for it.

“My daughter, Annie, she had this friend. Emma Graham. They were best friends in that way that little girls are—dumb fights over nothing that last for a week and then thick as thieves again.”

It makes me ill to think about the times when Annie would get mad. I used to see that dark part of myself in her, that rage. It would fade quickly, but it was there—a seedling I’d planted with the bad example I’d set for her.

“Paul and I used to see a lot of the Grahams, between play dates and school stuff. Len and Katy were one of those ‘perfect couples’ that you see on TV—the kind that you know is complete bullshit, but you wonder how they pull it off so well. Katy especially had the perfect wife and mother routine down. I hated her for it, if I’m honest. It’s not fair, but it’s true.”

I have to stop and look away from him because I hear myself talking and it’s all so fucking petty. I sound like a jealous, bitter old hag, whining because there’s a woman out there who is richer and prettier and blonder and fitter than I am. But it was never really about Katy. She was fake as hell sometimes, sure, but she was a kind woman deep down. It was only ever about me and my insecurities, and the way my husband preyed on them. I tell Gene all the ways that Paul used to flirt with other women, but especially Katy Graham.

“I used to tell myself it was only borderline inappropriate but that was just something I had to believe. Paul crossed that line you don’t cross with all his dirty jokes and his shameless fucking ogling and his ‘accidentally’ bumping against whatever part of her he felt like touching. Now, to Katy’s credit, she never encouraged him. She always played it off like he was just some jokester and couldn’t possibly be serious. I knew he was, though. The way he used to look at her... he looked at me like that once, about a thousand years ago. I knew exactly what he was thinking.”

I close my eyes and I can see Paul’s eyes tracing the curve of Katy’s ass whenever she wore those tight pink yoga pants of hers, which was often. She was one of those women who didn’t have to work and had the luxury of time—time to go to the gym every day of the week, time to get her hair done and her nails painted, time to organize bake sales and silent auctions to raise money for all the shit the school couldn’t scrape together funding for. She was all the things that Paul wished that I was, all the things that maybe I could have been if I had just tried a little harder.

I push the past down for a moment and when I come back to the here and now I look up at Gene. I don’t know what exactly I’m searching for but I see the anger in the crease of his brow and his narrowed lips. He looks tense, ready to snap, and it’s oddly comforting. I can tell this anger is not directed at me, but it should be, so I continue.

“The school play was the night before Annie died. It was some nonsensical thing about pirates with a lot of singing and ridiculous costumes—the kind of thing that parents are supposed to find endearing—and Annie was so excited because she had a speaking part. She had a real flair for the dramatic, that one.”

I smile thinking about it, even though I know she only did it for my approval. Annie would do anything just to hold my attention for some short span of time. I need Gene to know this, to see that I am flawed. I need him to know that I failed at the only thing that ever truly mattered.

“Annie was always dressing up and putting on little shows around the house, saying, ‘watch me, Mommy, watch me,’ and I tried my best to pay attention to her and praise her no matter what. But sometimes I was just so tired, so angry, so completely worn down. Sometimes I didn’t have the energy to care, or even to fake it. And she knew it. She was smart as a whip and she fucking knew. I could see the light in her eyes go out when I didn’t respond to her the way she wanted, or when I told her I was busy and I’d watch her later.”

Now I feel the tears welling up because I regret every single moment that I didn’t give my daughter my undivided attention. I regret so many things, but nothing hurts me more than thinking about all the times I disappointed her. I pull myself together, though, because I’ve started this and I have to finish.

“I’m getting off topic here,” I say, even though that’s not entirely true. “Before the play started, Paul and I were talking with the Grahams, and Katy was going on and on about how much she loves her yoga class and how great the instructor is and how absolutely fabulous she feels afterwards and then she says, ‘We should go together sometime!’ and ‘wouldn’t that be so much fun?’”

Gene is staring at me now, and I can tell he is wondering where this is going, but he’s patient and lets me get there in my own time.

“So I’m about to gently remind Katy that I work during the week and suggest that maybe some weekend we could go together, when Paul decides that the appropriate thing to do is to pinch my sides and say, ‘that would be great for you, hon.’”

Even now I can feel his phantom fingers squeezing me and it still hurts. I remember the look of absolute horror on Len’s face and Katy’s cool composure as she tried to think of a way to smooth it over. There was nothing she could do, of course, but at least she tried.

“I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.” I can hear my own voice cracking and I’m starting to feel weak, like I can’t tell the story I came back in here to tell. I force myself to remember the anger and to feel it, because it’s the only thing that will get me through this.

“I was livid. I was beyond livid, even, and totally frozen in place because what do you even say or do in that situation? When your husband is ogling a woman right in front of you, comparing you to her? I remember that I was racking my brain trying to figure out something to say so I could play it off like it didn’t bother me. To be cool, calm, and collected, and not make a scene. But then Paul just fucking laughed and walked away.”

I see Gene clench his hands and I think he calls him a prick but I don’t acknowledge it because I’m on a roll now and if I stop I’ll never start again.

“I don’t really know what happened then. I just… the room got very small and very hot and very crowded and I was seeing these white flashes behind my eyes and I was about two seconds from screaming and crying so I excused myself and I ran outside to get my shit together. I didn’t intend to stay outside very long, just to get some air and calm down and then go back inside to play the loving wife and mother even though all I wanted to do was take one of those auditorium folding chairs and beat the living shit out of my husband.”

I almost stop, because it’s getting too painful, but I believe that without pain, there can be no release, so I force myself to keep going.

“I didn’t mean to miss it,” I say. “I had no idea I was outside for so long, but when I came back in the room was dark and it was almost over I was standing there with the camcorder in my purse having not recorded a single second of Annie’s play. I just… I lost the time… I was so fucking furious that I didn’t even know how long I spent wandering around. I honestly couldn’t tell you what I did for 45-fucking-minutes in that parking lot. All I know is that not only did I miss all but the finale of my daughter’s play, I hadn’t done my only job for the evening, which was to record it for her.”

I pause, because I know the tears will come now if I don’t stop them, and I don’t feel like I deserve to cry. When I look at Gene, he’s gripping the edge of his chair like he’s trying to hold himself in place and I feel like maybe I’ve done it now—maybe he sees me: the liar, the failure, the whore.

“After the play, Annie came up to me and she was so sad. She told me she’d been looking for me in the crowd but she didn’t see me. Paul was just glaring at me and all I could do was lie to her and tell her that I was way in the back, but that I saw the whole thing and she was wonderful. She knew I was lying, though. I could see it in her face.”

Thinking of her face—that look of disappointment—is what breaks me. I start to sob into my hands and I can hear the creak of his armchair as he gets up and moves towards me. I want to tell him to stop, not to touch me, but I don’t. I need to be touched. I need to be held. I need him, and I hate that I need him because I’m still so fucking angry at him, but he’s here and he’s warm and he is telling me that it’s okay even though it’s not.

I let him pull me close and put his arm around my shoulder, and I cry into the crook of his arm because I’m a bad person. I’m a bad person because I want to stop talking and crawl onto his lap and make him shut me up with his mouth and his hands and whatever else he wants to use. I’m a bad person because I know the things that he’s done and I still want him to wrap his arms around me and squeeze. I’m a bad person because I can push aside thoughts of my dead child in favor of fucking a criminal.

I look up at him and I ask, “Do you believe in Heaven and Hell?”

He thinks about it, really thinks about it and says, “You know what? I do. After all this time, I still do.”

I figured he might, but I don’t—not in the way that a good Catholic should, so I tell him, “I believe in Heaven. I have to believe in it. But Hell? Bullshit. I think it’s all just Purgatory. Just fucking waiting for eternity after eternity. The Hell is in the waiting, I think. Waiting to be punished can be worse than any punishment.”

“You might be right about that,” he says, and then he pauses, stroking my hair. “You know, you don’t have to tell me any of this if you don’t want to. You don’t owe me shit.”

“I know,” I say, and I wipe my face on his shirt, “but I have to tell someone or it’s going to kill me.”

He looks down at me and he nods. I’m sure he knows that feeling well.

“Whatever you want,” he says. “I’m not going anywhere.”

I have to push him away now, but I do it gently. I sit up straight and fake composure before I continue.

“When we got home from the play that night, after Annie went to bed, Paul and I got in a huge fight. We said awful things to one another, the kind of shit you can’t take back, and I told him I didn’t want him in my bed that night. In the morning I wouldn’t speak a word to him before he left for work. I told myself, ‘this is it, I’m done,’ but I knew I would forgive him for it because I always did.”

Gene asks me why on earth I’d ever forgive him and I tell him what he already knows: that’s what Catholic wives do, they keep the family together at all costs. The cost was too high, though, and I wish I could have seen it.

“I was so fucking angry at him that day I was shaking all day at work. I was working part-time back then, so I would be home when Annie got back from school, and that day I barely made it back before the bus dropped her off.”

I stop speaking for a moment because I have to, because I’m right back there in the moment I try not to think about—the moment I believe could have changed everything if I had an ounce of self-control.

“I was pulling into the garage when I got a text from Katy inviting me to yoga with her on Saturday and I just... I snapped. I saw red, and I don’t even remember getting out of the car or picking up Annie’s helmet but I know I did because when I came back to myself I was bashing in the headlight of Paul’s stupid fucking midlife crisis motorcycle with it. I threw it on the ground and I went inside because Annie was going to be home any second and I didn’t want her to see me that way. I failed at that a lot of the time, but I always wanted to be the best version of myself for her, you know?”

“Of course you did,” he says, but he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know how many times I lost my shit in front of my daughter, how many times she saw me cry and break things, how many screaming fights she overheard when she was old enough to understand.

It’s time now. Time to reveal my unforgivable sin, and I look him in the eye as I tell him the rest because I need to see something in him: some sort of recognition that I am not the woman he thinks he knows.

“When Annie came home she ran to give me a hug and I just… I was cold to her. I was trying to keep myself together and not cry and scream and throw things, and she was just happy to see her mommy, and I was fucking ice cold. I told her to go out and play, that I wanted to take a bath, and she said ok, that she was gonna go for a bike ride around the block with her friends. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for her to do that and I just… I didn’t care. In that moment I didn’t give a shit what she did, I just needed her out of the house so I could cry in the bath for a half hour before I had to start cooking dinner for my piece-of-shit husband.”

I am looking for judgment in his eyes but its not there and I don’t understand. I think maybe it’s because he doesn’t have children. He doesn’t know what neglect looks like. He doesn’t know the basic requirements of parenting and how I routinely failed to meet them. I continue because it gets much worse and I need him to see the ugliness in me.

“I was already naked and running the bath when she knocked on the door and said she couldn’t find her helmet. She was such a good girl, always followed the rules, and she asked me did I know where it was. And I knew where it was. I fucking knew. It was somewhere on the floor in the garage wherever it had landed but I just… I couldn’t be fucked to help her look for it. I just… I didn’t care. At that moment, I didn’t care. I thought what could possibly happen? When I was a kid I rode my bike with no helmet all the goddamn time and nothing happened and no one cared. So I told her to just go without it. I said, ‘just this once,’ and ‘it’ll be our little secret.’ That’s the last thing I ever said to her. She said, “okay, mommy, I love you,’ and I didn’t even fucking answer her. And now she’s gone, and it’s my fucking fault.”

I look at him and I’m waiting for him to say something but he doesn’t for a while. He just pulls me close to him again and I can’t bring myself to push him away. He whispers, “it’s not your fault,” but that isn’t true.

“Her skull was crushed,” I say, and I look in his eyes because if I look away I’ll picture the carnage. “She might have lived. You don’t know.”

“Neither do you,” he says, but I’m not having it.

I tell him, “There’s no excuse. There’s nothing you can say that will make me believe that I’m not responsible for it.” I tell him it gets worse, and how.

“After it happened, when they covered her up, I ran inside. I said, ‘I’m going to be sick,’ and I ran inside but I didn’t go to the bathroom. I went to the garage and I found the helmet under my car and I threw it out. I buried it at the bottom of the garbage and I took the bag and I put it in the bin. And I remember that I didn’t feel any emotion while I was doing it. I didn’t feel anything except the need to get rid of the evidence that I had failed as a mother and my only child was dead because of it. So I hid it and I lied. Paul asked about it later and I said she must have lost it and been too scared to tell us—that she went without it, that I didn’t know, that I would never have let her go if I knew she wasn’t wearing it. I put the blame on her because it was our little secret, and she was dead and she could never tell anyone the truth.”

I feel vile and disgusting and I wonder why he’s still holding me so tightly even now, when he knows the kind of woman I really am. I am not the victim. I’m guilty as sin, and it occurs to me that maybe that’s why he won’t let go of me. We are both of us sinners, in our ways, and I don’t think God cares all that much about the details.

There is no absolution to be had here, no catharsis through words, but I need the release and there is no one else who can give it to me. I turn to him and grab his face and I press my forehead to his.

“Kiss me.”

“What?”

“Kiss me, Gene. Saul. Jimmy. Whoever the fuck you are. Just kiss me. Fuck me. Kill me. I don’t care.”

He’s horrified now and he holds me at arm’s length. “Now just hold on a minute.”

“No,” I snap. “Fucking do it. You know you want to.”

And he does want to, because he’s got a fucking hard-on the size of my forearm and I can feel it against my stomach as I push myself into him. He’s got my wrists now and he’s struggling to get me to calm down but I’m too far gone. I’ve reached that point where I need to be as bad as I feel, and now I’m pissed off because I thought that he, of all people, would allow me this. My mind goes to that place where the worst thoughts hide and I think about grabbing his piece from my purse and making him fuck me at gunpoint. I think about whether he’d like that, whether he could perform.

I almost laugh, and then I start to cry.

“I’m so fucked up. I’m so fucked in the head. I’m sorry. I have to go.”

I try to leave but he grips my arm.

“You can’t go,” he says, but it’s not menacing; it’s desperate.

I see in his eyes that nothing has changed for him. He knows my truth and he’s not running, and the same is true for me. Only now I know why: that it takes a sinner to love a sinner, and maybe therein lies our salvation.

I grab his neck and I kiss him, and thank the Lord, he kisses me back.

Chapter Text

This look on her face—I know it. It’s what happens when someone warm goes cold. I’m trying not to be but I’m terrified of her and I start to feel that familiar panic rising. She is not who I thought she was, which means she could be anybody. She could be, for example, an undercover agent with some rather unorthodox methods for getting her man. She could be an assassin—the kind who likes to toy with her mark before she kills him. It could be simpler, of course. She could just have snapped after realizing that she’s been deceived by another good-for-nothing asshole. Everyone has a dark side, after all. It just takes some people longer to find it.

All I know is that I don’t want to know whatever secret she’s been keeping. I want to run from here, hide in some hole and wait this out, because I’m starting to feel like maybe I don’t want this to be the end—not that I think I’ve got another transformation in me, because I sure as shit don’t, but as much as it horrifies me, I’m starting to understand Walter at the end: that need to go out on your own terms, the need to regain control when you have absolutely none.

I see the butt of my gun poking out the top of her purse and I’m wishing to Christ I hadn’t given it up so easy when I hear her say it: “I killed my daughter.”

I feel ill and all I can think to do is switch off the VCR. I move very slowly, trying not to startle her as I contemplate how the hell I’m gonna get my gun back. Will I have to wrestle her? Will I have to hit her? Could I? She’s just staring at me from the couch with perfect posture: back straight, legs crossed tight, hands laying in her lap—the way the nuns taught her. She could be at church, the way she’s sitting, and I realize this is what she must look like behind the confessional screen: poised, cold, lethal, ready to blow your hair back with her sins and then just walk away.

But now she’s starting to explain and I see that, like me, she’s only dangerous to herself. The more she tells me, the angrier I get, because this is a woman who deserved better. I’ve seen it before: the woman wronged, the wife and mother destroyed by the man she chose to love. When she tells me how many times she thought about killing her husband, I think about killing him, too. I grip the arms of my chair but in my mind I’m squeezing the life out of a man I have never met but I don’t give a good goddamn about it because this anger makes me feel alive. I want to tell her that I understand that feeling of being wronged by someone who was supposed to love you, that frustration and blind anger that takes over when love turns into hate.

I don’t speak, though. I listen, because that is what she wants and what she needs. I snap into Saul mode and it’s oddly comforting to sit here and listen to someone tell me a tragic tale that has absolutely nothing to do with me. I start to form a picture of her letch of a husband: I know that guy. Hell, I might’ve been that guy if I hadn’t sworn off relationships that didn’t come with an hourly rate. If you can’t commit to someone, don’t commit to someone. It’s not exactly rocket science, and yet so many people can’t seem to grasp this very simple concept. It disgusts me, honestly—that level of betrayal. I’ve done a lot of shit in my life but that’s one thing I’d never do.

I can see the change in her when she starts to talk about her daughter and now I’ve reached the point where I can no longer empathize. I know fuck-all about parenting but I do know that it’s always terrified me to think of what kind of father I might be. I just couldn’t see it—that unconditional love—and I never believed that I could change in the ways I’d have to in order to be a proper role model. I like kids, but they need good parents, and since one would have to actually be a good person to be a good parent…. no, being a dad wasn’t for me, but it was for her. She just can’t see it anymore.

I want to get in her face and scream that she didn’t stand a chance with that asshole riding her like he did, that constant fucking criticism and judgment that turns a person into the worst things they believe about themselves. I want to shake her and ask her how in Christ she was supposed to be World’s Greatest Mom when she had someone dragging her through the shit all the time. I want to grab her just a little too hard and tell her she’s a goddess and that her ex-husband is the dumbest motherfucker on the planet, that if it were me, I’d have worshipped her. Of course, I don’t do any of these things, because I’m still waiting for this thing that’s coming—her unforgiveable sin. I wonder if it’s as bad as she thinks it is, though I’m about ninety percent sure that it’s not. That ten percent is nagging at me, though.

Oh, Santa. What in God’s name did you do to make you think you belong here with me?

I see the moment when she breaks. When she tells me how Paul shamed her, the air just goes out of her, and I dig my nails into my chair because I just want to get up and hug her. She sounds weak, looks broken, but she doesn’t cry. I can see she will very soon, though, and I’m impressed that she’s held out this long. I cry when the wind blows these days, but this one is a warrior. Even the strongest people have their limits, though. Hers, apparently, is the disappointed look on the face of her child.

And that’s it: seeing her cry like that just sets something off in me and before I can overthink it I’m next to her on the couch. I’m squeezing her way too tight but she’s not pushing me away. I’d thought for sure she’d try to stop me but she doesn’t—she pulls me closer, digging her nails into my arm and wailing and drenching my shirt with all that pain. Of course it starts to happen, because I’m fucked in the head and apparently I get off on soul-crushing sadness. I know deep down it’s just how my body works but I can’t focus on trying to stop it because I need to tell her things: that it’s okay to screw up, that she’s human, that she doesn’t have to be perfect to be perfect to me.

Then she sniffles and looks up at me. Her eyes are as pink as her lips, and her lips are inches away. I see them ask me, “Do you believe in Heaven and Hell?” and I pretend to think about it even though I know that I do. I know where I’m going, too, because all I want to do is kiss her. Instead I say, “You know what? I do. After all this time, I still do.”

I’m surprised she doesn’t, to be honest, and I don’t actually believe her until she tells me she’s been living Hell on Earth. That’s a feeling I recognize all too well, and I stroke her hair and tell her that she really doesn’t have to tell me any of these things. I mean it, too, because I know that no matter what she thinks she’s done wrong it will change nothing for me. But I also know what it feels like to have secrets eating away at your insides, so when she pulls away from me, I let her go even though I immediately feel the absence. I’m exposed now. I pray to God she keeps her eyes above my waist.

I can’t help myself from asking why she would stay with Paul. It just flies out of my mouth even though I should just shut the fuck up and listen to her and I already know the answer. She looks me in the eyes and gives me a wry little smile.

“That’s not what good Catholics girls do,” she says. “You have to make it work—whatever the hell it is, you make it work because you promised God that you would and if you don’t you’re a failure and everybody knows it.”

I can see that she wants to stop now, before the point of no return, and she does for just a moment, but then she lets it out and I can picture it all in my mind, clear as day. I can see her lose her shit, and all that violence and destruction that comes with a Grade-A breakdown. I know that feeling, I’ve lived that feeling: that good pain you get from beating the everloving shit out of an inanimate object.

But I start to sense where this is going now, and it makes me unbearably sad. She tenses up in my arms and she swallows and I can feel her struggle to get the words out before she looks at me and confesses her sins.

It’s not so far off what I thought, and I can see why she feels the way she feels, but it was an accident, plain and simple. She’ll never see it that way, of course, because she can’t look past the way it happened. She can’t forgive herself for those last words, for not saying goodbye, but she needs forgiveness so I pull her close again and I give it to her. I whisper into her hair, “It’s not your fault,” because it truly isn’t, but she looks at me and tells me the gory details I didn’t want to think about. But the picture is in my head now and it shakes me. I’ve seen a crushed skull before, but never one so small.

Still, horrifying as it may be, it isn’t down to her, because what chance does a child’s helmet have against a truck tire. I choose to address this point more tactfully, though, and I tell her she can’t know what would have happened, but it’s as I suspected: she wants no part of this absolution.

She says, “It gets worse,” and then she tells me about the lie she lives with. If I’m honest, it excites me a little bit, because it’s so morally gray that I feel like she might actually be able to understand me if she wanted to. I picture her in that moment of sheer panic, when the self-preservation instinct is so fierce that right and wrong have no relevance. She needed that lie to keep living. She saw the opportunity and she took it, and the lies piled up like hotcakes. That’s what lies do—they multiply like a cancer—and before you know it, you’re a person you don’t recognize.

I’m squeezing her tighter than I should be and I can’t even pretend to hide this totally inappropriate erection I’ve got going when her eyes go dark and more than a little bit scary. She says, “Kiss me,” and I honestly can’t believe she would want that, and I don’t know that I want it anymore because now she’s truly frightening. I can’t blame her, and I don’t at all, but now she’s telling me to fuck her and kill her and I know she’s gone off the deep end.

I push her away from me because I need her to calm down and actually think about what she’s doing, but she is stronger than I thought she was and now she’s wrestling with me and grinding against my dick and telling me that I want this. I don’t, though—not like this—and I grab her wrists a bit harder than I’d intended. She’s fucking furious and for a minute I think she may actually turn the gun on me. But then she starts to cry and I’m relieved that she sees the terrible mistake she was about to make.

She says, “I’m so fucked up. I’m so fucked in the head. I’m sorry. I have to go” but I can’t let her. She should go, and the rational part of my brain knows this, but I simply can’t let her leave. I grab her arm and I tell her that she can’t go, which is probably the worst phrasing I could use in this particular situation but I’m so fucking desperate for this woman to stay with me that I’m willing to beg and plead and get down on my fucked-up knees and pledge myself to her forever—all if she’ll just fucking stay here so I don’t die alone.

She looks at me and it’s like she’s looking into me and I feel it—this strange, quiet moment where she sees me as I am and I see her as she is. It’s a moment of acceptance, warts and all, and it goes both ways. I feel a sort of strange peace before she grabs me and kisses me rough, all tongue and teeth banging together, and I let her this time because it’s different now than before. She’s not frantic; she’s made a choice, and I kiss her back just as hard because so have I.

Chapter Text

Something is happening to me—something strange and new and frightening: I am in the process of turning into a criminal, or at least an accessory after the fact. The specifics of my crimes do not matter; all that matters is that I’m conscious of it and I’m letting it happen. I’m enjoying it, if I’m honest, because as wrong as I know it is to stay here knowing what I know, it’s really fucking exciting.

I can’t remember any excitement in my life before Gene came into it. At first we were innocent enough—flirting, making out, fucking—but now it’s something more. We are co-conspirators. We know each other’s secrets and we have sworn to keep them. Not verbally, of course, but I feel as if it goes without saying since instead of running to the cops I’m straddling him and kissing his neck and grinding his cock through his clothes. I have always known how right it feels to do wrong, but this kind of wrong is new to me.

I’d seen news articles and TV shows about this sort of thing—some couple who gets off on murdering people, an arsonist jerking off at the crime scene—but I never understood it until right this very moment. I can feel how wet I am. I can hear the urgency in my voice when I tell Gene to fuck me. I need him to, because I feel like I’m on fire and I want us to burn together.

I need a partner in this crime, and he’s it for me, but I don’t know if he feels the same. He’s just sitting there, letting me do whatever the fuck I want to him, and while normally I’d be all about that, right now I need more. I need to know that we are in this thing together—that he’s not just biding his time until he can run for the door or eat a bullet. I need enthusiastic consent that, yes, he wants to do this, and yes, he wants to do it with me.

He hisses as I drag my teeth across his earlobe and pull away. I sit up straight in his lap with my hands on his chest and I smile down at him.

“I’m in this with you now,” I say. “You know that, right?”

He looks up at me and I see sad eyes behind his glasses.

“No. You’re not. I can’t let you do this.”

“What if I want to?”

“You don’t,” he says. “You’re not thinking straight. You should go.”

He tries to shove me off of him but I won’t budge—not until I know he really means it.

“Tell me you don’t want somebody,” I say, “that you don’t need somebody in your life who really knows you. If you can honestly say that, then I’ll leave right now and I’ll never come back.”

There is a long pause and all I can do is pray to God that his Clyde needs a Bonnie. His voice cracks when he finally speaks.

“I don’t want to be alone,” he says, “but I deserve to be. I’m not dragging you into my shit.”

“That’s just it,” I say. “You’re not dragging me into anything. If I want to roll around in the shit with you, isn’t that my business?”

He looks at me like I’ve got three heads. “Not really, no.”

“How so? I’m a grown woman. I know a thing or two about life. I think I can make my own decisions.”

“It’s not that,” he says, and he sighs deep. “It’s the guilt. If anything happened to you because of me, I’d-”

“What? Kill yourself? You’re already doing that.”

“I know,” he says, “and it’s for the best, believe me.”

“I don’t accept that.”

I’m pissed off now because even if he does deserve to be alone, he doesn’t have to be.

“Well,” he says, “you’re gonna have to accept it, because I can’t do this. Not with you.”

I can hear the words and I understand them but I can’t take no for an answer. I won’t, because I still don’t believe him—not truly.

I ask him flat-out. “Do you love me, Gene?”

He doesn’t hesitate. “You know I do.”

I lean forward and dust his lips with mine and I whisper, “Then please just let me love you back.”

“This is wrong.” He puts his hands on my thighs and closes his eyes. “This is so so so wrong.”

“It’s not wrong to need somebody,” I say. I drag his hands up to my chest and hold them there. “I need somebody.”

He looks at me, dead serious, and says, “I am not what you need.”

He thinks he’s doing me a favor by trying to resist all his urges—that I’d be better off without him—but he’s wrong. I know he wants to kiss me. I know he wants to fuck me. I know he wants to be loved. He has to.

I tell him, “You’re exactly what I need.”

And that’s when I panic, because maybe he doesn’t want any of those things. Maybe he wants me to get the fuck off of him and leave. Maybe he wants to run. Maybe he wants to die.

I would have understood, if that were the case, but thank Christ he shows me that it isn’t. With a whispered “fuck,” he gives in. He cups my breasts of his own accord and runs his thumbs across my nipples, and I can feel him moving his hips ever so slightly beneath me. He wets his lips and says, “If you think I’m what you need, there’s something seriously wrong with you.”

I start to move with him. “And you’ve just realized that now? I’m fucked up, you’re fucked up…”

I trail off because I’m back in the danger zone where all I want is to feel him on me and in me, consequences be damned. I think he’s there, too, because he grabs my hips and gives them a little push-and-pull so I’m right where he wants me.

He moans and then he asks, in all seriousness, “Why the fuck do you love me?”

I answer truthfully: “Because I don’t feel alone when I’m with you. I feel alone with everyone else, but not with you.”

“And you honestly think I can make you happy? I have nothing to offer you but a world of trouble.”

I smile as I ride him, slow and steady. “I like trouble,” I say, “and it’s been far too long since I’ve gotten myself into any.”

“You’re dangerous,” he says, and I reach between us and palm his erection. He curses the way he knows I like.

I ask, “Do you want to get into trouble with me, Gene?” and then I squeeze him just so.

“Christ that feels good.”

“Answer me.”

“Yes. Fuck. Yes.”

He’s breathing heavy now and I know I’ve got him where I want him. “And you won’t leave me again?”

“Never,” he whispers.

“Promise me,” I say.

“I won’t leave. Hand to God, I won’t.”

I grab his face and pull it to mine and I whisper, “Let me love you, Gene.”

He nods and I can see that he is mine now, to do with what I wish. And what I wish is to get naked and fuck like there’s no tomorrow because I’m not quite certain there will be. Words are very pretty, and sometimes even honest, but the world doesn’t give a shit about the things we tell each other. We can love as fiercely as anything and make promises we intend to keep, but life always ends up happening anyway. Right now, it’s enough to know that he wants us to work.

Us. How lovely. How strange. How terrifying.

He kisses me in a way he’s not allowed himself to kiss me until now—it’s soft and it’s slow and it tells me that he belongs to me. He doesn’t pull away when it gets too real, just wraps his arms around me tight and holds me there. And I grip him, too, probably too hard, but I’ve got him now and I’m not letting go.

We are both afraid, but we’re bolder now and I ask him to make love to me. I hate that phrase, always have, but it seems like the right thing to say. What I really want is a lovefuck—that perfect mix of body worship and degradation, sweet and dirty all rolled up into one.

I’ve told him this. He knows what I like and apparently he’s a quick study because he’s got me naked from the waist up and he’s kissing up my neck to that spot with the birthmark on it—the one that makes my thighs twitch when you hit it just right. And he is, and I can barely stand to wait any longer but I will because he’s got a confidence now that he didn’t have before. I don’t want to rush him. I want to give him the chance to show me what he’s made of.

As it turns out, he’s made of sturdier stuff than I’d given him credit for. I keep expecting a slip-up or an oopsie-daisy somewhere along the way but he’s bringing his A-game. He’s got one hand in my hair and the other down my pants, with two of those thick fingers doing God’s work inside me. I’m saying vile things and he’s saying sweet things and then I’m coming loud on his fingers before my pants are even off. Then our sweaty foreheads touch and he asks, “Did you come?” like he doesn’t know.

I smile and say, “I think you know I did.”

“I think people the next county over know you did.”

Then we laugh together and it’s like music. There’s no nerves or anxiety or self-applied pressure like there was before, and I think maybe it was all a matter of trust. Maybe we needed to wade through an ocean of shit—all that vulnerability and guilt and sadness—before we could get here. Maybe we needed to see the ugly before we could have something beautiful. Whatever the case, he’s still got a massive erection that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and it’s long past time it got used properly.

“You’re wearing too much clothing,” I say, and then it’s all hands grabbing at buttons and buckles and fabric flying around until we are both completely naked.

The morning light is coming through the frosted glass and there’s nowhere to hide now—no dark corners or sheets to cover up with. It’s just my body and his body and a newish couch to fuck on. He asks if I want him to take me to bed and I say no, because I want to ride him, right here and right now.

“Sit,” I say, and he falls backward with the slightest push.

I straddle him and get into position and I take him raw before he can object. I know about the strippers and the hookers but I don’t care. Maybe it’s dangerous and terribly reckless, but the same could be said for all of this. I could be thinking about all the bad things that might happen but I’m not, because I just want to feel every inch of his cock inside me, no filter. If he told me to stop, I would have, but he doesn’t. He just groans long and low and lets me ride him straight to Hell.

It’s a nice slow build and I’m happy to do most of the work for a while, but soon he’s got his hands on my hips and he’s fucking up into me with some serious power. I won’t lie: I didn’t know he had it in him, but I’m more than pleasantly surprised and I think I might actually come again.

I shout out a litany of obscene and sinful things to him. I tell him to spank me and pull my hair and make me bleed. I call him “Jimmy” by accident and I freeze up, but he’s not fazed by anything but his name.

He stops and goes still and he looks at me.

“Say it again,” he says, almost begging.

I lean over and whisper “Jimmy” in his ear.

He jerks his hips and says, “Again.”

I say “Jimmy” louder, and he gives me two quick thrusts.

It goes on like that for a bit. He keeps asking, growing more and more insistent, fucking me harder and longer until he can’t bring himself to stop. I keep answering, in different tones and volumes, and different turns of phrase.

“Give it to me, Jimmy.” “Fuck me harder, Jimmy.” “Tear me up, Jimmy.” “Jimmy, I love you.”

He gives it to me good on the last one and now I’m right there. I don’t even have to remind him that I like a bit of thumb on my clit while I’m coming, bless his heart. He’s almost as loud as I am and I think he must be coming because I’ve never heard a sound like that from a man that was not mid-orgasm. It would have made sense; it’s been a totally respectable amount of time. But as I’m coming down, shaking and wrapped up tight in his arms, I can feel he’s still hard as steel inside me.

All I can say is “Christ.”

“I’m as shocked as you are, believe me.”

I climb off of him and plop down next to him on the couch. A patch of his chest hair is calling to me and I rest my head on his shoulders and toy with it.

“We can go again,” I say, “but you’re gonna have to give me a minute to get my shit together.”

“So, it was good then?” he asks.

He cocks an eyebrow and a little smile plays at the corner of his lips. I roll my eyes and look at him like he’s an idiot.

“Shut the fuck up, Gene.”

Somehow it feels right to call him Gene again, because he’s still Gene to me. Jimmy is new and exciting, but he’s still a bit of a mystery. I like what I’ve seen, though. I want to know more.

“You know, if you keep talking like that, I will come,” he says. “Verbally abusive banter really revs my engine.”

“Are you being serious? Because I can’t tell if you’re being serious.”

“I’m not not being serious,” he says. He averts his eyes but he’s not embarrassed. This is how he shares.

“Oh,” I say. “Oh, wow. Paging Dr. Phil.”

He turns his body to look at me and says, “Oh, yeah. Let’s call Dr. Phil and maybe we can discuss why you think ‘fuck me bloody’ is an appropriate thing to say during lovemaking.”

He puts air quotes around “lovemaking” and I laugh so hard I queef—and it’s not just a tiny little mouse squeak. It practically echoes in the room and now we’re both giggling like schoolchildren. The whole thing feels very pure, or as pure as something can feel when you’ve just finished sinning and are about to start again. When we catch our breath I can feel I’m red in the face but I’m not embarrassed, not really.

I swat his chest and say, “Technically, that was your fault. You and your big dumb dick pushing all that air up in there. I’m an innocent victim in all of this.”

“Mea culpa,” he says. “But please tell me more about my big dumb dick.”

“I’d rather discuss what your big dumb dick wants to do next.”

“I think you know what my big dumb dick wants.”

I do know. Of course I know. I have about a thousand text messages describing in detail exactly what his big dumb dick wants to do, but I say no because I’m not feeling it at this particular moment. Not that I couldn’t handle it, possibly even enjoy it, but now doesn’t seem quite the time. Apparently, I’ll let a wanted criminal fuck my pussy raw on his couch at 7am but an assfuck requires a candlelight dinner and smooth jazz.

“No explanation necessary,” he says. “However, I am going to need to fuck you again. Oh wait, sorry, ‘make love.’”

I hit him again, harder this time. I find myself hoping it’ll bruise so I can stamp him as mine.

“Well,” he says, “this dumb dick wants to make love to you properly, in a bed, on a mattress, with pillows.”

There’s not a trace of sarcasm in the way he says it this time and I let him take me to bed. It’s lovely, really. It’s lazy and it’s sweet and it makes me feel beautiful. It is everything I forgot that I wanted from sex—that connection, with actual feelings of intimacy and love for someone else. When he comes it’s like I’ve never wanted anything more than to hear that sound, like God put me on this earth just to hear it, and when he’s finished he kisses me and I start to cry.

I don’t know why I’m crying exactly. I think it’s all just too much. It’s information and sensory overload, not to mention a lack of sleep. I expect him to freak out and think the worst: that he hurt me, or worse, that I regret it. But I don’t and he doesn’t. He just wipes my tears away with his thumbs and says, “Me too.”

I let him hold me for a while, neither of us saying anything, because we’re exhausted and everything has already been said. I’m afraid to go to sleep, though, because I don’t know what the future will bring. We’re in this now, no going back. There are things that can’t be unsaid and things that can’t be undone and now we need to learn how to live with it all. I tell myself that after a few solid hours of sleep I will be able to see it clearly—the new normal, whatever the hell that might be. I can’t see it right now, but I will. I know it. I just need to sleep first is all.

I kiss Gene goodnight and tell him I love him because it seems like a good place to start, then I close my eyes and pray he’s still there when I open them.

Chapter Text

It’s no secret that I’m terrified of women, and the one on top of me is no exception. From the start she’s made me want things I know I can’t have. I can’t give her what she needs—not even close— and I’m way past the point of deserving the love of a good woman.

So, you can imagine my surprise when she tells me that she wants in on the trainwreck otherwise known as my life. My gut says no but my dick says yes; my rational brain is, as yet, undecided. Here is what I know. Fact one: this woman knows pretty much every awful thing I’ve ever done and she’s still here. Fact two: she is now knowingly entering into a relationship with a wanted criminal. Fact three: she’s all hot and heavy on my lap and she’s begging for it, all of it—the dick, the love, the life of lies. She reeks of sex and desperation and I have to say, it’s really fucking attractive.

It’s wrong, though. It really is. She’s in shock. She’s not thinking straight. She can’t be, because this is not who she is. I tell her as much and try to ease her off of me but, of course, she’s not having any of it. She’s got that fire in her eyes and I know that I need to tread lightly but I can’t see any way out of this that doesn’t involve hurting her.

Christ, I don’t want to hurt her, but what the hell am I supposed to do? All I can do is keep telling her no, but I don’t really mean it. It’s selfish and it’s cruel but I want her to stay. I’m listening to her try to convince me that the selfish thing is the right thing, that it’s okay to need somebody, but all I can think about is how much I want to put a ring on her finger and fuck her blind until the day I have a massive coronary on top of her. I could meet my maker a happy man and deal with the rest of it later, and now my mind is filled with the dumb shit she’s made me want out of life.

I think about getting chewed out at the grocery store: That crap has too much sodium. You’ve already got one foot in the grave, motherfucker. Put it back.

I think about painfully long shopping trips at the mall: Listen, asshole, if you want me in stripper heels then you’ll sit in that goddamn chair until I find some classy ones.

I think about picking out duel plots in the local cemetery: The shade from that oak tree is nice but I think that’s near Mrs. So-and-So and I’m not spending all eternity next to that judgmental cunt.

All I want is to spend the rest of my life doing exactly what she tells me to do, and then she says the L word.

There was a time when I would have panicked but I say yes immediately. It’s not as if she doesn’t already know. Of course, I hate that I love her, because if I’ve learned one thing over the years it’s that love is pain and suffering and nobody ever wins. But that doesn’t change fact four: I love this woman and she loves me back. Christ knows why, but she does.

Now for the million-dollar question: will I accept this love from her? I sure as hell want to. I’m starving—for companionship, for affection, for a warm, wet woman to call home. I want to belong to someone, and I want that someone to be her. I touch her thighs because I can’t stop my hands from moving there and my body stopped caring what my brain has to say a long time ago.

She’s got her claws in me deep, in both the figurative and literal sense. She’s clutching my hands to her chest and, good Christ, does she have a superlative rack—I’m talking the stuff of MILF-fantasy legend. How can I possibly say no to this? Why the fuck would I want to?

Of course I know the answer: I am literally the last thing she needs. I tell her as much but she’s stubborn as sin. She disagrees, quite emphatically, and then I realize something that hadn’t yet occurred to me—something so simple, so obvious it’s almost laughable.

Fact five: I don’t know the first thing about women.

When I think about it, really think about it, I have no earthly idea what Santa needs. She never fails to surprise me, though, and I don’t know why it hasn’t occurred to me until now that she might not be the person I thought she was. She’s done everything she possibly can to show me that she is a willing victim here. She’s getting off on it, for Christ’s sake. I can see it so clearly now—that sinner she’s always talking about, the one I didn’t believe existed outside her mind. But the devil in her is real, and it wants to come out and play. I whisper “Fuck” because she’s got me now. It’s game over. The devil always wins in the end.

I’m so hard it hurts and I start to rut up against her because now all I can think of is going to town on her exactly the way I know she wants it. I feel like I can do it, too, because she really is as fucked up as she says she is. There’s a sense of safety in knowing she’s a little dirty, and that a lot of her choices are pretty murky, ethics-wise. She’s not too good for me; she might actually be perfect for me, but I have to know one thing.

“Why the fuck do you love me?”

“Because,” she says, “I don’t feel alone when I’m with you. I feel alone with everyone else, but not with you.”

I talk a good game but when it comes to my trash heap of emotions, I can barely scrape together the words “I love you.” Give me ten lifetimes and I couldn’t have phrased it any better than she just did. And now I want to follow her down this rabbit hole and see what kind of trouble we can get into together. I want to live dangerously, goddammit. I want to feel alive.

I promise her I’ll never leave her and I mean it while I’m saying it. I really do. I’m hers until she inevitably walks away. I have no idea how long it will be before that day comes but right now I couldn’t care less because she’s asking me to make love to her and I’m ready for this. I will let her love me and I will love her with everything that I have. It’s not much, of course, but I think it’ll do.

But first things first: I’m going to fuck this woman properly or die trying.

I know what she likes. I’ve been over it a thousand times—in the shower, in my armchair, in bed damn near every night since I met her. Jesus, even the bathroom at work that one time. In my fantasies I could always give her what she needed; it was the practical application that was tricky. But things are different now. My body has decided not to betray me and I’m grateful because when I shove my hand down her pants it feels like a goddamn Slip‘N Slide.

I’m focused, though. I’m ready for this. I take a fistful of that thick mane of hers and I pull it while I let my fingers do the talking. She’s got a filthy fucking mouth, too. I knew it was bad, but stick a few fingers in her and she turns into a pull-string doll from the world’s most fucked-up porno.

She says things like, “make me your fucking glove puppet,” and, “I’m gonna make those sausage fingers sizzle,” and I’m legitimately impressed with the breadth and depth of her dirty talk. I can barely remember my name during sex, much less come up with any sort of X-rated repartee, so I don’t try, and I shouldn’t, because I have a very important job to do. I stick with the basics—how she looks (like a goddess), how she feels (stu-fucking-pendous), how great her tits are (God’s finest creations).

It’s working and now she’s coming and Christ is she loud. I vaguely register that it’s 7 in the morning and my neighbors can probably hear all this filth, but I don’t care because I can feel her pulsing on my fingers and I’m still rock hard and holding steady. Everything is as it should be, and when she touches her forehead to mine I can’t help it. I’m proud of myself. I want to gloat, just a little. I smirk at her and I ask, “Did you come?”

We’re laughing now and it feels like coming home. I had forgotten what it’s like to have a good naked laugh. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to laughter during sex, but it’s generally directed at me. This is much better.

I’m not about to press her but she doesn’t make me wait long. She’s good to go and I think she’s going to be the responsible one, pop upstairs and grab some rubbers, but apparently this little devil wants my dirty dick raw.

Always full of surprises, this one.

The sound I make is truly not of this earth but fuck if I’ve ever felt something this good. I should stop, I really should, but fuck it. I’m done trying to make her choices for her. Not to mention that trying to go back to condoms after barebacking is like getting bumped from first class to economy. I’ll just pretend it’s the 70s, the golden age of irresponsible sex. Plus I can’t risk ruining this. I’ve got a good rhythm going here and I’m feeling like I may have some real staying power.

It helps that she’s doing the heavy lifting at the moment. She wants to make my cock work for her, and I’m happy to help by staying out of her way. But something happens to me. Maybe it’s some kind of titty-bouncing-induced hypnosis—I don’t know, and I don’t care, because all of a sudden I feel like I have the strength of ten men.

I grip her hips hard enough to bruise and I give it to her like I mean it. And I do. Oh, I do. I can see the shock on her face turn into that dumb-fucked kind of bliss and it makes me feel like a man—a manly man, the kind of man who wears expensive suits and drinks top-shelf scotch and makes all the babes cream with a well-timed raise of his eyebrow. I can’t remember the last time I felt this powerful. It’s fucking intoxicating, I don’t mind saying.

Then I give her a quick little smack, just to feel that booty jiggle, and she loses her goddamn mind.

That mouth of hers is at it again and it’s almost too much. If she wasn’t so fucking sexy I might have laughed. Instead I listen attentively to the filth those pretty lips are spitting and I take some mental notes on what she’s into. Not surprisingly, given her adventures in the parochial school system, spanking is right at the top of her list.

“Hit me again,” she says, “make it hurt.”

I oblige and then she says, “Harder. Bruise me. I want a welt shaped like your fucking hand.”

That…. well, that I am not going to do, but I keep on truckin’ until she’s taking the Lord’s name in vain and yelling, “pull my hair out, fuck me bloody, tear me the fuck open, fucking destroy me.”

And then she says it—“Oh God, Jimmy”—and I almost come. I have to stop for a second and stay perfectly still and try to think about something else. It’s not working, though, because all I can hear is my name in her voice and I have to hear it again.

And again. And again. And again.

When she says, “Jimmy, I love you,” I think I’ve got about ten pumps left, tops. You can’t take it with you so I give her all I’ve got left, and all I want in this world is to watch her face while she comes. It’s the little pleasures these days, and I remember what she likes so I give it to her just so. She’s legitimately screaming now, and it sounds like it could be a murder-in-progress. This should probably concern me but it doesn’t because I can feel her coming from the inside out. She must do that Kegel shit because she’s squeezing the hell out of my dick and now I’m making a sound to rival hers.

I think I must be coming. I’m coming, right? I have to be coming. But no. She’s riding hers out, having half a seizure in my arms, and I’m still hard as hell.

I thank Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for letting me keep this boner. I thank Almighty God for giving me the strength to fuck this woman properly. And, of course, I give the devil his due, because if it wasn’t for him neither of us would be here, naked as the day we were born, exchanging casual sex banter like we’ve known each other since time immemorial.

I think that maybe this is some sort of a dream—that I’m really in a hospital somewhere, in a coma, waiting for some stranger to pull the plug—but then she queefs on me and I know this is real life. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that that would be the thing to make me want to live again. Because I do now, I want to live. I want to have a life with her, though I haven’t the foggiest fucking idea what that life would entail. I’m gonna do my damnedest to make it count, though. I can tell you that.

She asks me what I’d like to do with my dick and a lot of incredibly explicit things run through my head. It’s like a sped-up porno compilation: The Best of Sodomy, Volume One. I’m pretty sure she knows exactly what I want but for some reason I can’t ask for it. There’s a time and a place for that, and this is most certainly not it. Of course, if she wanted it I’d be on that ass so quick the roadrunner couldn’t catch me, but I can tell she’s not too keen on the idea, which is fine by me. I have the luxury of time now, and that feels better than anything my perverted mind could dream up.

I would, however, like to make love to her, which is something old but new again. I’ve been inside a lot of women, and some of them weren’t even paid for it, but it’s been an eternity since I’ve felt something more than lust. I might be a bit of a talker, or at least I was, but when it comes to putting words to feelings I go dumb. In this particular instance, I feel like the show-don’t-tell approach is the best course of action.

It’s surprisingly easy once we start. It’s not hard for me to worship every inch of her or look into those big brown eyes. It’s not hard to kiss her like I mean it. It’s not hard to take it slow because I don’t want this feeling to end. She is quieter now, no obscenities or lewd commands; she’s just breathy and moaning low and occasionally whispering my name—my real name. I wouldn’t have minded if she’d called me Gene, but I think she understands that it means something to me that she knows Jimmy and she loves him, too.

I try not to come as loud as I want to but I have to let it out a bit and I want her to know what she does to me. I can’t take my eyes off her while it’s happening and I don’t want to because she’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and she’s looking at me like I am, too.

Usually it’s me that cries after sex (or before sex, or during sex) but when I kiss her I feel hot tears on my face. I know why. I get it. I could cry just as easily but I keep it together for once because she needs me to be stronger than I am. I wipe her tears away and I assure her that all is well, and then I hold her for as long as she’ll let me. I’m physically and mentally exhausted but I can’t sleep because now that everything is said and done, there are so many new questions running through my head and I have not a single answer.

She falls asleep before I do and now I’m just laying here, staring at the back of her head and wondering what the fuck happens next. I’m just about asleep when I hear a pounding at the door. It’s muffled but I can make out the words.

“Omaha P.D. Open up.”

Chapter Text

I feel like I’m caught at the tail end of a nightmare, in that liminal space where the bad guys have you cornered and you’re clawing your way back into consciousness. I hear the banging and the distant voices—“Omaha P.D. Open up”—and I think: it’s not real. It can’t be real, because I made my decision not to spill Gene’s beans and I meant it.

But now I’m conscious, and it is very much real. I shoot up in bed and look over at Gene. He’s frozen in place, every muscle tensed up tight, and he’s looking at me like I’ve betrayed him.

“I didn’t call them,” I say. “I swear to God, I didn’t.”

“I know.”

I feel in my gut that somehow, some way, this is my fault. He was well under the radar before I crashed into his life. He was hidden away. He was alone, but he was safe. There’s more banging at the door now and I know I have to fix this.

I throw the covers off and tell Gene to give me a T-shirt, but his brain is still buffering and he doesn’t move.

I whisper-yell at him, “Shirt. Now, motherfucker,” and then I give up on him. I rush to the dresser and find one just long enough to cover my bare ass and then I grab his shoulders. “Go take a shower.”

He looks at me like I’m crazy. “Why would-”

“Just fucking do it. Run the water, get in, and clean yourself up, ok?”

“Ok,” he says, but he’s stuck in that panic paralysis so I grab his hand and yank him out into the hall.

I ask him, “Do you trust me?”

“Yes,” he says.

“Then please just do what I tell you.”

On my way downstairs I actively refuse to believe that the worst is happening. I can’t let myself think that because he can’t leave me now. This is a misunderstanding of some type—it has to be. I think maybe they are looking for me and not for him. Maybe my mother finally lost what’s left of her marbles and put out an APB on me for not calling her back within an hour, that they found my car in the driveway, and now they are here to drag me back to her. I look through the peephole when I get to the door.

Fuck.

I know the faces, quite well in fact. It shouldn’t surprise me that I know them. Half the asshole guys I grew up with joined the force when they were old enough. I open the door to the worst possible combination of men: Officers Billy Bianco (aka Up-the-Skirt Billy) and Anthony Laresca, who just happens to be my brother’s favorite drinking buddy.

I try to act casual. “Hello boys.”

Billy’s eyes go wide and he says, “Jesus Christ. Santa?”

“Nice to see you, Billy. You too, Anthony. So what’s the problem?”

The cold air is coming in and my nipples are painfully hard, and if Billy’s disgusting face is any indication, they are probably visible, too. I’d picked one of Gene’s thinner white undershirts and I smile inside because I realize I can use this to our advantage.

“We got a call about a disturbance at this location. A neighbor heard a woman screaming.”

I start to laugh because it is actually hilarious.

“That was hours ago,” I say, and I think to myself: what kind of person is so bitter about someone else getting laid that they call the fucking cops over it?

Billy narrows his eyes at me. “So, you’re saying there was a disturbance here? Are you hurt in any way?”

“Not at all, everything is perfectly fine here.”

“Then what was all that racket the neighbor heard? She said it came from this address specifically.”

I try to act like I’m ashamed. I look down at the ground and up again and then say, “Well this is a bit embarrassing. It’s just that I was having…. you know, and it got a bit loud.”

I flash a coquettish smile at Billy but he’s staring at my tits through my shirt and trying to determine if I’m wearing any underwear. The he laughs. “Robbie told me you were a screamer.”

I won’t lie, it stings a bit to know that the guy I trusted with my virginity had actually kissed-and-told when he swore on his life that he wouldn’t. I drop the act now because I’m legitimately pissed.

“That’s lovely, Billy. Really. Now can you please get out of here and let me go about my day?”

I pray he’ll drop it but of course he doesn’t because he’s a nosy little shit, gathering intel so he can blab it all over town.

“Who’s the guy?” he asks.

“None of your fucking business is who.”

“You know,” he says, “I could just check to see who owns this property. Better yet, I could just make your gentleman friend come downstairs and introduce himself.”

Now I’m starting to panic and I have to tell him something or he will do exactly that, just to embarrass me.

“I don’t know his fucking name, Billy, ok? And he doesn’t even live here. It’s his friend’s place or his cousin’s or some shit. I don’t know. All I know is that he’s from out of town and he just got back from a tour in Afghanistan or Iraq or someplace. We met at a bar last night and we got drunk and came back here and we fucked. Is that enough information for you? Are you happy now?”

Now Billy’s got an asshole grin on his face and Anthony looks horribly embarrassed, probably because he knows he is gonna tell Tommy but he already feels bad about it. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s surrounded by assholes all day and I think it’s rubbed off on him.

Billy’s licking his lips, reveling in this juicy little tidbit of info he’s got to hold over me.

“You know,” he says, “I still gotta write this up.”

I know I have to flirt my way out of this and it makes me sick to my stomach but I do it anyway.

I cock my hip and I say, “Do you though, Billy? Do you really? Can’t you just say it was a false alarm or something and just leave it at that?”

“I suppose I could,” he says, “but why should I?”

“For old time’s sake,” I say, but I can see the look in his eyes and I know I’m not getting off that easy.

He stares at me like the disgusting letch that he is and he says, “Flash me your pussy and this goes away.”

Anthony looks horrified. “Jesus Christ, Billy. Come on, man.”

“Shut up, Laresca. Get back in the car if you don’t like it.”

Anthony looks at me apologetically but he doesn’t do a thing except turn and walk back to the squad car.

“Come on, Santa,” Billy says. “Just turn around, bend over, and show me. How hard is that?”

So I do it, because I have to, and I feel like throwing up. But if it means no police report with Gene’s name on it then it’s worth every bit of the degradation I’m suffering.

I hear Billy say, “Niiiiice,” in that disgustingly satisfied way, and then I turn around.

My face is stone cold when I say, “Are we done here?”

“Yeah,” he says, “I think that about covers it. You have a real nice day now, sugar.”

I want to grab Gene’s gun from my purse and shoot Billy in his smug fucking face, and that’s when I remember that there’s a gun with a scratched-off serial number sitting ten feet away in my purse.

I say, “you too,” and shut the door as quickly as possible, and when I turn around I see Gene at the top of the stairs, staring at me with complete disbelief. I feel filthy and worse, I feel like I betrayed him.

“How much of that did you hear?” I ask.

“All of it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” he says. “I’m the one that should be sorry, and if I was someone else I would go out there right now and make that sick motherfucker sorry he was ever born.”

“Just let it go,” I say. “Let’s go back to bed.”

“I couldn’t sleep now if my life depended on it.”

And it’s true. I’m fucking wired now, and as disgusting as I feel, I’m also kind of proud of myself. I pulled it off. I saved the day. And it wasn’t even all that difficult. It was a hell of a rush, to be honest, and I’ve got a bit of a high from the whole thing. I wonder if this is how Gene felt, back in the Slippin’ Jimmy days. I can certainly see the allure.

But I need to take a shower immediately because I’m covered in sex and sweat and the stain Billy’s eyes left on me. I ask Gene if he wants to join me but he says no, which is fine because I need some time alone with my thoughts.

I’m not terribly pleased to find that Gene has shampoo but no conditioner so I skip the hair washing and focus on scrubbing my body clean. I go through the motions but my mind is somewhere else. I’m thinking about how close of a call that was, and how quickly it happened. I’ve barely even started thinking about how Gene and I are going to work and the police are already banging the damn door down. My heart is still beating too fast and I have to steady my breath because the high is wearing off and now I’m just scared. But that tiny bit of pride is still there because I protected him—just me, without any help from anybody. Of course, it was my fault the cops came in the first place, but I take some pleasure in the thought that maybe I can keep him safe.

I dry off and steal one of Gene’s button downs and a clean pair of boxers because the thought of putting on yesterday’s clothes is not the least bit appealing. I can smell coffee and bacon, and the tension leaves my body, and not just because I would literally kill someone for coffee right now. It smells like domestic bliss downstairs and this I what I’d wanted to wake up to before the Dick Squad showed up at the door.

He smiles when he sees me and hands me a steaming mug and now I’m back living the dream. Then he says, “your phone’s been buzzing like crazy,” and the dream abruptly ends. I dread checking the phone and when I do it’s as I expected: three missed calls from Donna, one from Tommy, and about a thousand texts between them.

I can’t help myself from screaming, “Those motherfuckers,” because it’s been 45 fucking minutes and already Tommy has branded me the town trollop and Donna is begging me for some sort of explanation as to what is going on. I don’t blame her, and she’s not nearly as nasty as my brother, but I can tell she’s disappointed and it makes me want to cry.

I turn to Gene. “They know.”

“Who knows?”

“My brother and sister know, which means that very soon my parents will know, and half the town probably already knows, and now I’m totally fucked.”

He’s lost for words so he just hands me a piece of bacon and I take it down like an animal. I’m thinking and I’m thinking but I’m coming up short.

“I don’t know what to do,” I say, because I truly do not.

Gene says, “Call your sister. From what you’ve told me, she seems like the normal one.”

“She is,” I say, “but I don’t know what the fuck I’m gonna say to her about this.”

“You’ve gotta find out what she knows before you say word one, I know that much.”

“Can’t I just text her?”

“No,” he says, “This requires an actual phone call. It’s more personal, it’s more believable, and you’ll get more info out of her.”

“Fuck, you’re right.”

“I know,” he says, and he looks almost cocky and I have to say, it’s a good look on him. “Now do it, because the longer you wait, the worse you’ll look.”

“Can you leave the room? I don’t think I can look at you while I do this. No offense, it’s totally not you, but it’ll be easier if I’m alone.”

“Not a problem,” he says, and then he kisses me on the forehead and says, “Good luck.”

When he’s gone, I pull up Donna’s number and stare at it for about ten seconds before I say fuck it and dial. I need to know what she knows. She will be nice to me. She might not believe me, but she won’t press for details.

She picks up on the first ring: “Ok, what the fuck is going on with you?”

It’s actually jarring to hear her curse like that. That means she’s pissed, and I was not expecting that from her.

“Hello to you, too,” I say. “Now how about you calm down and tell me what you think you know before going off on me? How about we do that. And lose the attitude, little sis, because I am not in the fucking mood.”

The big sister card. Perfect.

“Fine,” she says. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine, now talk.”

“Tommy said that Anthony Laresca said that he and Billy Bianco were on a call and found you at some random guy’s place and that you’d been, y’know… loud, and so some lady called the police. He said you didn’t even know the guy.”

“Anything else?” I say, and she pauses.

“He said you flashed Billy to get out of a… I don’t know, a ticket or something? Can you get a ticket for that sort of thing?”

“DONNA. Focus. What exactly did he say.”

“Sorry, he said that you flashed your… you know.”

“No, I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me.”

“Your,” and then she whispers, “vagina,” and I start laughing because I have to or I’ll explode.

“You’re a grown woman with children. How is it that you can’t say the word vagina?”

She‘s not falling for it, though.

“Don’t change the subject, Santa. You’ve got to tell me what happened. Is this the guy? The new guy? Be honest.”

She’s too smart for her own good and it’s really inconvenient right now because I have no idea whether it’s better to stick to the story and become the slut of the century or tell her some version of the truth and put Gene’s cover at risk.

Of course, I choose the former, but I tell her one truth.

“Listen to me. I did not flash Billy, ok? Well, I did, but he sort of made me do it. He threatened me. It was actually really awful and I’m really upset about it but you can’t tell anyone, not even Tommy, ok?

“Why the hell not? That’s disgusting. He should lose his job for that.”

“Because it’s already a fucking thing, Donna. Everybody knows about it so what does it matter? I’m supposed to what, file a formal complaint about it? Sue the department? Get deposed and whatever the fuck else and tell them every little detail of my personal life? And you know how cops are—you go after one asshole and the full fucking fury of the force rains down on you and everyone in town turns against you. I don’t want to deal with any of it, ok? Please don’t make me. I’m fucking begging you, Donna. Please.”

She’s silent for a while and I’m trying not to cry and failing, and then she says, “I promise,” and I know she won’t break it for anything.

“Thank you,” I say, and then I swallow deep and ask a question I do not want to know the answer to. “Do Mom and Dad know?”

Her silence says everything that needs to be said.

“God help me,” I say.

“Maybe you should go to church, Santa.”

And now I’m laughing again because I’d probably get stoned to death if I showed up there right now.

“I think not. Now, do me a favor and tell our darling brother that he needs to apologize for the things he’s done and said to me lately or I will never speak to him again, kay? And he can text me his heartfelt apology because I don’t want to hear his whiny bitch voice right now.”

“I will relay that message in an appropriate manner, sure.”

“Great.”

“Are you gonna call Mom and Dad?”

“Fuck no.”

She sighs. “Well then what do you want me to tell them? Because they’re going to ask.”

I think about it for a minute and then I say, “just tell them the truth,” and hang up.

When I turn around Gene is there. I figured he’d been listening and it’s actually better because now I don’t have to relive it in the telling.

“Well that’s that, then,” I say. “I’m officially a fallen woman. A disgrace to my family. How does it feel to be dating the town whore?”

He smiles and he says, “outstanding,” and I laugh.

But then he gets serious and he asks me, “Why didn’t you tell her the truth? At least she would know, even if nobody else did.”

“Because now I can disappear and they’ll all be better off for it.”

“Stop,” he says.

“It’s true. You know it’s true. But it’s better, for us. It keeps you under the radar and now I can do whatever the fuck I want without playing twenty questions.”

“But they’re your family.”

“They might be my blood,” I say, “but they don’t know me like you do.”

He hugs me tight and tells me I look sexy in his clothes, and just like that I stop caring about any of it. My life may be complicated now, even dangerous, but it’s still better than what I had before. I won’t let anyone steal this time from me; I’ve been robbed of enough already. It’s time for me to live for me, and all I want right now is to finish this coffee and bacon with my new best friend and talk through what the fuck happens next.

Chapter Text

I’ve pictured this day many times—the day of reckoning, which I knew would inevitably come. People like me don’t get to make a great escape and get away with it. People like me don’t turn their lives around and find happiness with another human being. No, I knew it was coming, I just never imagined there’d be a beautiful woman sleeping next to me when it did.

In every scenario I’ve played out in my head, there was always one constant: I would go quietly. No muss, no fuss, no bullshit lies. Resistance is futile, as they say, so I’d just let them haul my ass to the slammer and live out the rest of my life as someone’s prison bitch until the day I get shanked in the shower. I’m frozen in place because I’m preparing to meet my end, but then she wakes up and I force myself to look at her. I need her face burned into my memory. They can’t take that away from me, at least.

She says, “I didn’t call them. I swear to God, I didn’t,” and I find a speck of happiness in the fact that the thought hadn’t even occurred to me.

I’m vaguely registering that she’s up now and saying something to me quite insistently but I’ve got tunnel vision and my ears are ringing and I can’t quite see or hear her. She says something about a shirt and it occurs to me that if I’m going to retain any sort of dignity in this, I should really have clothes on when I turn myself over. That is, if I don’t drop dead from a massive coronary within the next ten seconds. I feel like my heart is going to beat it’s way out of my chest and I can’t breathe and all I want is for her to hold me until they take me away from her in a body bag.

I start to snap back into myself and I see she’s frantic but determined to fix this for me. I don’t want that for her, though. This is real now—it’s happening—and I need to keep her as far away from it as I can. I think about tying her up and gagging her and throwing her in my closet. I’ll tell the cops I drugged her and abducted her. Fuck, I’d even tell them I raped her if it will keep her an innocent victim in all this. My mouth hasn’t caught up to my brain, though, so I let her drag me out of the room.

She asks me if I trust her, and I do, but that doesn’t matter. The jig is up; I just wish she could see it. I tell her I’ll do what she says, though, because whatever fool thing she’s about to do, I’m confident I can fix it for her later. What’s the worst that could happen? She lies to the cops and says there’s no one here by that name?

Textbook Stockholm Syndrome, your honor. This woman needs counseling, not jail time.

So I let her go and do what she feels like she needs to do. She’s a smart cookie. She won’t give them enough rope to hang her with. I run the shower but I don’t get in. I hover just out of view and eavesdrop, because I owe it to her to listen so I know what I’m working with later.

I hear the door creak as she opens it and then she says, “Hello boys.”

I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me that she might be a known quantity in this town. She’s been here her entire life. Of course she knows the fucking cops, and it would appear she knows these two quite well. This might actually work in my favor. If they know her, they might be more sympathetic. But then one of them says, “We got a call about a disturbance at this location. A neighbor heard a woman screaming,” and now she’s cackling and I give thanks to God because, for some reason I just know that she’s got this.

I listen to her as she plays these two for fools and, I have to say, I’m impressed. She’s working them like a pro and they are falling hard for it, but then the one she calls Billy starts to talk to her in a way that makes my blood boil. I have to clench my jaw to keep myself silent and dig my nails into my palms to distract myself from the hurt I wanna put on this guy. He’s asking her too many questions, making threats, and I know how she must be feeling—that brain-racing panic when a scam starts going sideways. I think to myself, “you can do this,” and then she spits a load of crap about getting drunk and fucking some no-name stranger.

I’m torn now, because I truly am impressed but it pains me to listen to her shame herself for these assholes. Of course, minus some of the details, the story isn’t that far off from what happened that night at the bar. She didn’t know me from Adam, she didn’t (really) know my name, and she happily allowed me to face fuck her in my car. No wonder this seems to come so easily to her. The difference, of course, is that I love her for all of it and these two think she’s trash.

But now this fucker’s gone a bridge too far and it takes every shred of willpower I have not to run down the stairs and beat him until he shits himself and dies. I’ve known a lot of dirty cops, but this guy the worst kind. I’m pleading with her in my mind, “Don’t do it. Please God don’t do it,” but I already know that she will. It guts me but I stay where I am because it’s already done. The tears are coming and I squeeze my eyes shut and cover my face with my hands. I know I can’t make a sound, because if I’m busted this has all been for naught, but all I can hear is this sick fuck getting off on this shit.

A part of me is gone for good now, dead and buried—the part that hoped I could keep her safe no matter what. Turns out it didn’t take but a few short hours before she was forced to debase herself at my doorstep to keep me out of the can. I can hear the ice in her voice as she politely sends him on his way and I think to myself, “I have to end this.” I don’t generally believe in signs from God but Christ if this isn’t the closest I’ve come to it.

When I hear the door close I wait a beat and then I come around the corner. She’s got her head resting against the door, bracing herself with her arms, and I can’t tell if she’s crying but I can’t imagine she wouldn’t be. But of course she isn’t, because she’s a fucking warrior, and she turns to me and asks me how much I heard. There’s no point in lying, so I tell her, and just when I didn’t think I could feel like a bigger piece of shit, she fucking apologizes to me for it.

I wish I could say that, if I had a DeLorean, I’d hit rewind on this whole thing and make sure she never ends up here. I’d be lying, though, because I’m a selfish prick and she’s looking at me with a face I know well: that smug look, that tiny smile she’s trying to hide—it’s self-satisfaction for a mission accomplished. I know that feeling, that high, and I let her have it because fuck if she didn’t get the job done, and well. I can tell she feels dirty, though. I know that feeling, too.

She asks me to join her in the shower, and at any other time I’d have jumped at the chance, but right now I have no interest in feeling the things I’d be feeling if I took her up on her offer. Not now. No, she should be alone for a while, wash herself clean and think about what the fuck she’s really doing here and if she wants to stay.

I set about making her breakfast, which in this gross bachelor pad means coffee and bacon. Something tells me she won’t mind, if she’s even hungry. I hear it once I finish the bacon: a near-constant buzzing coming from the living room, and when I investigate the sound I see that it’s coming from her phone. I don’t have to look to have a general idea who it is and it pisses me off because she doesn’t need their shit right now.

There are a few ways it could have gone down, but it’s clear that somehow her family knows what just happened. I can hear her walking around upstairs and part of me wants to delete all the evidence before she comes down but I know that won’t change anything. She’d probably be pissed, actually, so I just make her a plate and pour her some coffee and pray she doesn’t have a nervous breakdown.

She comes down the stairs in my clothes and I smile because she’s lovely. I let her take a few sips of coffee before I drop the newest bomb on her. There’s no point in putting it off. Ignoring it could make things worse. I casually tell her that her phone’s been going off, trying to ease her into the fact that she has a whole new world of shit to shovel, but she’s not surprised. She’s fucking furious, but not surprised, and then she confirms my suspicions.

“They know.”

She looks like a caged animal and I can tell she’s too frazzled to think anymore so I decide to do the thinking for her. I give her some bacon, because bacon makes everything better, and I tell her exactly what to do.

Step one: choose the softest target—in this case, clearly the sister.

Step two: call, don’t text. Let her hear your voice. Remind her that she’s supposed to be on your side.

Step three, and this is key: find out what they know before you say one word.

She wants to be alone and that’s fine, but I’m damn sure gonna listen in case she paints herself into a corner and needs help getting out of it. It’s time for me to step up and get her out of a jam. I owe her that, and so much more.

She starts off strong. The big sis angle is a nice touch. That imbalance of power between the elder and the younger is something that never goes away and I know better than most how easily it can be used to the elder’s advantage. She’s following my instructions now, gathering all the intel she can, and the sister seems to be falling in line. She tries laughing it off but that falls flat, and now I hear her doing the thing I really don’t want her to do.

She’s unapologetic when she tells her sister that she fucked a complete stranger—that she just wanted to get some dick and she didn’t care who was attached to it. I wonder if that isn’t partially true. I’ve always assumed that it was true, at least at the beginning, and it doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is the way she’s being judged for it, especially by her own family. And that’s on me, because she could have easily told her sister the truth—that she knows exactly who it was that she was with and that she lied to those fuckhead cops because it’s no one’s goddamn business—but she doesn’t do that. She’s burning herself to the ground just to keep me safe and it makes me feel fucking ill.

And then it gets worse because now she’s telling her sister how it felt to be violated the way that she was, and I know she’s telling the truth when she says she’s upset about it. She played it off to me like it was no skin off her back, and I wanted to believe her, but there are scars there now that weren’t there before. And the worst part of it all is that she’s right about being completely helpless.

Sure, she has a strong case against that piece of shit, but it’s unwinnable. And even if by some miracle she did get some justice for what happened to her, she’d still be a pariah. It’s a sorry state of affairs but the fact remains: when it comes to accusations against the police, there is no winning in the court of public opinion. And forget about the cops. Depending on how deep the dirt runs in that precinct, she might end up with a “self-inflicted” gunshot to the head and a headline that reads “Town Whore Kills Self, Burns In Hell For Sins.”

No, she has no recourse. She’s completely helpless, and it’s all my fault.

When she hangs up I’m right there waiting and she asks me how it feels to be dating the town whore. I say, “Outstanding,” because it’s the truth and it makes her laugh. I ask her why she didn’t tell her sister the truth and I thought I knew the answer already but I was wrong, at least partially. I knew she was trying to protect me; I didn’t know that she wants to cut all her ties and disappear. I’m not going to let her do that but I keep it to myself, because now is not the time and she looks so goddamn sexy that all I want to do is make her feel good.

We go back to our coffee and bacon and try to pretend that we’re normal. It’s bullshit, of course, but it feels nice to do it—it’s what she wants, and I want to give it to her. There are so many things I can’t give her, but this? This I can do. I’m about to put on a second pot of coffee when I feel her hands on my hips. She pulls me in close to her and I can feel her breath through my shirt.

“Run away with me,” she says. “Let’s get the fuck out of dodge.”

Chapter Text

I need to get the fuck out of town. I want to go somewhere else and be someone else, and I want to do it with Gene. In Omaha I am a joke, a disgrace, a filthy sinful whore who deserves every bad thing that that’s ever happened to me. But with Gene, it’s different. I can be whoever I want to be and he will love me for it. With Gene I think I can figure myself out, because I realize now that I have no fucking clue who I am.

I have spent my life playing a series of roles: dutiful daughter, faithful wife, loving mother, good little God-fearing Catholic girl. I was better at some than others, but it was all really bullshit in the end. I have never been any of those things, and now that I have nothing left in this world to lose but Gene, maybe I can figure it all out. There is a freedom in the fact that this man can never judge me, and I don’t think he would if he could.

Part of me is scared to ask him to go with me because I know it could be bad for him. He goes out of his way not to draw attention. He barely leaves his condo except to go to work and buy liquor. He’d never even missed a shift before I came crashing into his life. He pays for things in cash and avoids situations where ID is required. He plays it safe, or at least he did until he met me.

I shouldn’t ask this of him. I should just go home and take a nap and reassess things when I’m rested. Maybe I would wake up and realize that this whole thing is a huge mistake. Maybe I’d be able to face my family and try to make amends. Maybe I could pick up the pieces of my shitty life and start fresh in the eyes of God. Maybe I could be redeemed.

But where’s the fun in that?

I walk up behind him and wrap my arms around him. “Run away with me,” I say. “Let’s get the fuck out of dodge.”

He turns around to face me and I’m waiting for him to make the smart choice, to say no and tell me I’m being rash and reckless. I would have understood. I know it wasn’t fair to ask him in the first place.

“Where to?” he says, and he smiles.

“Seriously?”

“Absolutely,” he says, “but there are some restrictions.”

“I’m guessing no planes or exotic foreign locales?”

“Sadly, that is correct.”

“That’s fine,” I say, and it really is, because I’m broke anyway and I don’t need the five-star treatment to be happy with him.

I can’t deny the fact that it makes me a little sad to think that we couldn’t even go if I’d wanted to. I’ve never left the good ol’ U.S. of A. and there are places I want to go before I die. Death, of late, feels nearer than it once did, and though being with Gene doesn’t mean I can’t go, it just means I can’t share those experiences with him.

And maybe that’s fine—better even, because for the first time I’m realizing that I am free now. No job, no kids, no family—at least not one who loves me unconditionally. No, I’m nothing but trouble and disappointment to them. I’m the devil in their house, corrupting everything I touch, turning gold into shit. I’m fundamentally incapable of being who they want me to be, and as sad as it makes me to admit it, they really are better off without me.

“Second requirement,” he says, “and this one pains me: I can’t be away for too long. The flu excuse will buy me a day or two more, but then I have to get back. Extended absences—not good.”

“My turn. We have to go far enough away that I won’t run into anyone I know because I just… I can’t right now. Truly. I will lose my fucking mind.”

“Done,” he says. “So, the way I see it, we have two options. We can drive a few hours to the middle of nowhere, get some booze and a motel room and just-”

“Fuck for two straight days? I’m sold.”

He laughs and says, “I was going to say hide out, but your idea is better.”

“Don’t act like you weren’t thinking it.”

“I would never be so presumptuous,” he says. “I’m a gentleman.”

“Good thing I’m not a lady,” I say, and I kiss him.

He smiles and says, “It really is.”

“So what’s option two?” I ask.

“Option two is we drive a few hours to St. Louis and hide in plain sight. It’s big enough and far enough away that it would be easy enough to stay under the radar.”

“Hmm. Well, I do like KC barbecue but there’s just something about a seedy roadside motel in butt-fuck nowhere that really speaks to me.”

“I was hoping you’d say that.” He puts his hands on my ass and he squeezes, hard.

I tell him I have one more condition: “We’re bringing our own sheets and pillows and shit because there is no way I’m letting whatever the hell is living on that bedding touch my body.”

He laughs and tells me I deserve so much better than a motel fuck, and I think I actually believe him, but the cheap motel treatment is just the right kind of dirty for me.

“I don’t need the Ritz, darlin,” I say, and now it’s my turn to grab a handful of ass. “Just you.”

“And clean sheets,” he says.

“Yes. And clean sheets. Speaking of which, I need to go home and get all my shit. I assume we should probably take my car. Do you want to pack a bag real quick?”

“Yeah,” he says, and he clears his throat. “Sounds good.” But he doesn’t sound like it sounds good to him at all.

I look in his eyes. “You’re lying,” I say. “Why are you lying?”

He shrugs. “Force of habit?”

“Fuck you. Tell me.”

He clears his throat again and says, “It’s not inconceivable that, if you leave, you’ll realize you’re making a terrible mistake and you won’t come back.”

“Don’t be an idiot, Gene.”     

“I’ll do my best.”

I grab his face and kiss him and I say, “Come with me then. I’ll wait for you to get your shit together.”

He looks relieved, excited even, and he goes upstairs to prepare for our little adventure. It feels good to make him feel good. I want to make him feel even better.

 

*****

 

By the time we turn onto my street I’m deathly afraid for myself and for Gene. I wouldn’t be surprised if the townspeople had gathered to burn me in effigy on my own front lawn. What if they see him in my car? They’ll start to ask questions that neither of us wants to answer. I stop at the signal a few blocks away and I can’t bring myself to start driving again.

“What if someone’s there?” I ask him.

Gene answers me from the backseat where he’s hiding. “Just let me do it.”

“No,” I say.

“Believe me, it’s not my first time. At least this time I won’t be bound and gagged.”

“Won’t you?” I say, and he laughs.

“Just let me ride in the damn trunk until we get out of town,” he says. “I swear I don’t mind. It’ll make your life easier, I promise.”     

I give in because he’s right and because the more I think about it, the funnier it gets.

“Jesus,” I say. “Alright.”

I go around the block to the house with the hideous 8-foot privacy fence and make sure there’s no one around, and then I put the man I love in the trunk of my car and lock him in. This is the kind of shit you see in movies and you think you won’t ever actually experience in your life, but here I am. I have to laugh when I shut him in there and I can hear him say, “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“A little,” I say, but I don’t know if he hears me.

On the way to my house I hit a pothole on purpose and I hear him yell, “Goddammit,” from the trunk. I should not be enjoying this. I should be afraid and concerned and probably reevaluating all my life choices but instead I’m laughing hysterically as I pull into my driveway.

And, thank Christ, no one is there. There’s no angry mob of family and nosy neighbors. No stake has been erected, no twigs stacked for kindling. I’m in and out as fast as I physically can and by the time I get a bag packed and the car loaded up with bedding I’m sweating. I open the trunk just enough to throw a blanket inside for Gene and then I close it quick. It’s cold as shit outside and I can’t imagine it’s pleasant in there. It’ll take me about 20 minutes to get to I-80 and once I’m headed west I’ll find a good spot to pull over and let him out.

I’m driving cautiously now—not too fast, not too slow—and I can’t hear anything from Gene in the back. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad but there’s nothing I can do about it now so I just keep driving. I decide that, once we cross the Platte, the coast should be clear enough. By the time I find a piece of no-man’s land, he’s been in there for almost an hour, and when I open up the trunk he barely moves.

My immediate thought is that he’s dead and I killed him, but then he yawns and sits up and stretches out like a cat.

“Were you fucking sleeping in there?”

“Power nap,” he says. “Thanks for the blanket.”

“Jesus Christ,” I say. “Get out before someone drives by.”

I help him out of the trunk and now I finally have him in the passenger seat. We are sitting like a normal couple on a road trip—no one hiding in the backseat or asleep in the trunk. This is what I’ve been wanting, although the rest of it was certainly memorable. I drive for another two hours or so and it’s nice because we’re not talking. There’s been a lot of talking going on, and this motherfucker can talk. It feels nice to just hit the road and zone out and not feel the need to fill the silence with words.

I am out of words now. I need action.

We find an RV Park/Motel off the highway. At first it looks like it’s abandoned but turns out it’s just that decrepit.

“Perfect,” I say.

“I think we can do better than this.”

“No,” I say. “This is definitely the place.”

He turns to me and he’s dead serious when he says, “You know that someone has definitely been murdered here, right? This is 100% the kind of place that bad guys take other bad guys to kill them and chop up bodies in the bathtub and-”

“Christ, will you shut up,” I say. “I get it. If you want to go somewhere else, we’ll go somewhere else, but I’m tired of driving and there’s nothing else around here.”

“I’m fine with it,” he says, “but don’t expect me to shower.”

“I like your natural musk.”

He laughs and says, “God help us.”

Gene stays in the car as I go get us a room. The guy at the desk definitely thinks I’m a working girl but he doesn’t really give a fuck. At a place like this, they’re probably his bread-and-butter. He hands me the key to a second floor room and when we get there I’m pleasantly surprised. It doesn’t smell nearly as bad as I’d expected. It’s mildewy, sure, but for some reason I thought it would smell like a cum-dumpster and I’m glad it just smells like a basement. The bed is truly disgusting but it’s tolerable once we strip it and remake it with sheets I will most definitely burn when we are done with them. If all goes according to plan, they will be stained with sin and the sooner, the better.

“Home Sweet Home,” I say. “Now we need provisions. I’m thinking junk food and tequila.”

He looks at me fondly and I can’t help the smile that spreads across my face.

“You’re a dream,” he says, and I float on air to the desk clerk to ask where I can procure everything I need.

Gene stays in the room while I go take care of everything but not before I see the huge stack of fifty-dollar bills he’s got rolled up in his suitcase. He hands me one of them and says, “I’m buying,” and while I do appreciate it, I’m forced to ask myself a question I really hadn’t thought of before.

How much money does this guy have?

I know he used to be rich but I just sort of assumed it was all gone—seized by some government agency or another. He was vague about the money in his confession and there was just so much to process that it didn’t even occur to me to ask. He certainly lives like he’s broke as fuck but maybe he’s rolling in it. It would make sense if he was, and I hate myself for it but it excites me to think that he’s quite possibly secretly loaded.

I pull up to the liquor store to discover that it is attached to the world’s seediest sex shop so of course I have to go in. I’ve seen them, of course, but I’ve never been inside one and when I walk in I’m happy to find it empty but for a lone, disinterested employee. Still, I keep looking around me as I wander aimlessly around the store. I don’t even know what I’m looking for until I find it in what I can only describe as the butt stuff aisle.

I don’t know that I’ve ever actually seen an anal plug in the flesh, so to speak. It kind of looks like a meat tenderizer, and I find myself thinking about my mother using a butt plug to pound a flank steak into tender submission and I have to cover my mouth to suppress what would surely be a horrendously loud honking noise. No, I can’t draw attention to myself in here. Not when I want to do the thing I now want to do, which is steal this butt plug for absolutely no reason at all. I’m not embarrassed to buy it like some teenager buying condoms for the first time; I just simply feel like stealing. I put it in my purse and walk toward the lube section with purpose.

My heart is pounding in my chest as I walk to the register. I place the lube and a box of condoms on the counter. I force myself to make eye contact with the guy ringing me up, to smile even, and he sizes me up. The angel on my shoulder is screaming at me to just reach in and pay for the merchandise in my bag but the devil, as always, is louder.

And I get away with it, and the rush is intoxicating, and now I have crossed a new line. It’s a small comfort to know that it really does get easier to be bad. I ride my shoplifting high through the drive-thru and get us an obscene amount of McDonalds, and before I know it I’m back in the room with Gene.

“What did you do?” he asks. “You look like the cat who ate the canary.”

“It’s a surprise,” I say, and I shove a handful of fries in my mouth. “Pour us a shot.”

“I would but we don’t have anything to pour them in.”

“Well then hand me the bottle.”

I don’t often drink tequila because it boils my blood and makes me run even hotter than I usually do. A few margaritas and all the rage under the surface would come bursting out. I would be a human tornado, destroying everything in my path, and when I sobered up the guilt and embarrassment would usually be enough to keep me off it for a long, long while. But this is different. My blood is boiling but I’m running a different kind of hot. I’m flush with the desire to let Gene do very bad things to me and I’m sweating out all my inhibitions.

“It’s your lucky day,” I say, examining the bottle, which is about a third of the way gone.

“Is that so?”

“Yeah.”

I strip down to my underthings, somewhat clumsily, and I tell him to do the same. When we’re both nearly naked I point to the bed.

“Sit,” I say, and then I reach into my purse, pull out the bottle of lube, and throw it at him.

“I’m gonna let you fuck my ass tonight—that is, if you’re still interest-”

He’s on me, lightning fast, and now I’m naked and face down and he’s worshipping every inch of my ass with his lips and his tongue and his hands. It feels so deliciously sinful that I forget to be afraid of what I can only assume will be painful. He is, after all, a big boy, and even though he’s doing his best to relax me and ready me, I don’t know how it’s going to go. I trust him, though. I truly do. I know without saying that if I tell him to stop, he will stop. I know that he doesn’t want to hurt me and that he will try his best not to, even if that means not getting what he’s wanted since the first time he saw me from behind.

He takes his time, savoring me, and now he’s got me wide open and he asks me if I’m ready for his cock. And good God am I ever, because it has occurred to me that my entire life has led up to this moment.

I, Santa—the fuck-up, the disgrace, the family disappointment, the town tramp—am about to be gleefully sodomized in a cheap motel room by a wanted criminal. I would laugh if I wasn’t moaning at the way his tongue feels inside me.

“Give it to me,” I say. “I want your cock in my ass.”

“Let me grab a condom.”

“Don’t,” I say.

“But-”

“I don’t want you to.”

He hesitates, but only for a moment. I startle and tense up a bit when I feel the chill of the lube hit my skin but it’s forgotten as soon as he grabs my hips and starts rubbing his head up and down and around. He pushes the tip in slowly and whispers, “Ohhhh fuck,” and I try to relax my body and my mind but he’s ready to go deeper and even this much seems like a lot.

“Wait,” I say.

He freezes in place. “You alright?”

“Yeah, just gimme a sec.”

I can just barely reach the tequila on the nightstand and I have myself another shot while my body adjusts and accepts him.

“OK, do it,” I say when I’m ready.

He slides the full length of himself inside me and lets out a long, loud moan. I dig my nails into the sheets and I make a sound I’ve never heard from myself before. I know it sounds like I’m hurting but I’m not—not really. I’ve never felt fuller of a man than I do right now and it’s not painful exactly, just a strange sensation.

“Are you alright?” he asks.

I whisper yes and tell him to keep going and by the fourth or fifth thrust I start to understand why some women like this. I didn’t think I would, honestly. I never have before. I thought I would just get drunk and tolerate it to make him happy—that it would feel good being bad with him but not be physically pleasurable. I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

I know he’s holding back and going slow for my benefit but that’s not what I want anymore so I tell him he can do whatever he’d like. He grabs my hips hard and soon he’s slapping my ass and fucking me hard and fast. He tells me how tight and perfect my asshole is and I tell him it’s all his. He tells me how much he loves it and how much he loves me. Then he stops balls deep inside me, reaches forward, and pulls me in for a kiss.

I love this man. I’m in love with this man. These are the things I’m thinking as he fucks my asshole raw and then flips me over and throws my legs up on his shoulders.

“I need to see you,” he says, and he shoves his cock back inside me and fills me up again. He’s got his hands on my tits and I’m rubbing my clit furiously because all I want in the world right now it to come with this man’s dick in my ass and listen to the obscene sound he makes when it happens, which it does soon enough.

“I’m gonna come, too,” he says.

“Come in me. Come in my ass.”

“Sweet Christ,” he says, and then he jerks against me a few times and lets it go.

For a second he looks and sounds more like a fumbling adolescent than a grown man and it’s actually adorable, but when he pulls out he spreads me wide open and watches himself drip out of me.

“This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” he says from between my legs. “Honestly.”

“You’re fucking filthy,” I say, and he gives me a wicked smile. He licks his lips and he looks ravenous as I squeeze a little more out for him. For a moment I think he’s about to go to town on me but he just watches and I feel so incredibly exposed and so deeply adored.

Afterwards I go to the bathroom to clean myself up a bit and when I’m done I stand naked in front of the mirror, admiring myself. I look good wrecked like this. I feel good, too, and even though my asshole feels like it’s about to fall out of my body I’m not nearly finished with Gene.

I reenter the room to find him sprawled on the bed, looking blissfully at the ceiling. I walk to my purse and pull out the stolen butt plug.

“Surprise,” I say. “Your turn to get wrecked.”

I think he’s going to resist but he doesn’t. He just sort of stares at it, and then back at me, and then back at it again.

“Are you even real?” he asks.

“So you’re into it?”

“Absolutely,” he says, “but pass me the fucking tequila.”

Chapter Text

If there’s something I can count on in this life of mine, it’s that I will always make the wrong decision. It’s not that I don’t know what the right thing is—I do, and I always have—it’s that the wrong choice is generally easier. Nine times out of ten, it’s the one that feels good even though it’s bad (or morally gray at best). This is why I don’t hesitate to run away with her when she asks me—not for a moment—because regardless of where we go or what we do, the fact remains that it will make me feel alive, even if it kills me.

There are caveats, of course, but she doesn’t seem to give a shit.

I go upstairs and pack a quick away bag before she has a chance to change her mind. I don’t need much: some clean socks and underwear, a change of clothes or two, and the most basic of toiletries.

And then, of course, there’s the money. What to do about the money?

I stare at the bag, which looks much lighter then it did when I left Albuquerque, and I think about taking it all. I’m taking a real risk by leaving town and Christ knows what’s waiting for me outside Omaha’s borders. It could be good to have a parachute. It’s not lost on me that she doesn’t know this money still exists and I decide that, one way or another, I’m going to tell her. For now, I just grab a few rolls of bills, throw them in my duffel bag, and zip it up tight.

I don’t allow myself to think about taking the whole bag and starting again somewhere else with her by my side. It’s not prudent nor is it even possible and I don’t want that for her anyway. No, I want her to take a few days to blow off some steam and then start thinking clearly again, because there’s no happy ending to be had here and she’ll realize it soon enough.

When I get back downstairs I can see that she’s nervous and I don’t really need to ask why.

“What if I run into somebody?” she asks. “What if they’re waiting for me? Oh, God. What if they see you?”

“I’ll ride in the trunk.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“It’s not my first time,” I say, and for a second she thinks I’m joking before she remembers that I’m not.

“I don’t think we need to go to that extreme. Just hide in the backseat under a blanket or some shit. It’ll be fine.”

But by the time we get close to her house, her certainty is waning.

“Just let me ride in the damn trunk until we get out of town,” I say. “I swear I don’t mind. It’ll make your life easier, I promise.”    

She finally lets me do it and if I were a betting man I’d say she’s actually enjoying it a little. I never took her for a sadist but it’s charming on her.

Once the coast is clear and we’ve hit the open road, I have time to really think about what I’m doing. I can’t ignore the fact that I’m fleeing town in the trunk of a woman’s car. It’s something Saul would be doing, not Gene, and it’s a bit of a shock to feel like myself again.

I can’t say I’m not enjoying it, though. It’s dark in here and cramped as hell and I have to conserve my oxygen, but Christ almighty do I feel alive. The adrenaline is screaming through my body and I think about her, up in the front seat, tickled pink that she’s got me locked up tight in her trunk. How novel this must be for her. How exciting. I can’t stop the thought as it comes.

She’s so fucking dangerous.

Santa is the kind of person Mr. Disappear warns his clients about: impulsive, reckless, volatile, endlessly alluring. “Never fuck crazy,” he’d said, and I’d agreed because I didn’t think that person existed for me and I couldn’t conceive of fucking anyone I didn’t pay for the privilege.

But because I am me, not only did I choose to fuck Crazy, I’ve let it put me in the trunk and drive me to the middle of nowhere to do Christ knows what. This is not a Gene choice; this is a Saul choice, and that thought leaves me so content that I fall asleep with a smile on my face.

***

 We’ve been driving for hours now and my back aches something terrible. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy playing the normal, road-tripping couple with her but I have to get the fuck out of this car and soon. She seems to know this without my saying it and pulls off at the next exit where we find some run-down motel/RV Park that looks like one of the seedier places I used to know—not exactly the same, but a bit to close for comfort. Bad things happen in places like this, and I try to tell her as much, but her mind is made up and this may be our last option for miles. I’m suddenly grateful that she had the forethought to bring bedding.

I take in the small details of our room because I don’t know what is going to happen in here but I know I want to remember all of it: the layers of hideous, peeling wallpaper; the water spots on the ceiling tile; the varied stains on the carpet, which is worn nearly threadbare in places. I’m fairly certain a black-light examination of this place could be seen from space. It truly is the grossest place I have ever stayed but it doesn’t seem to faze her. Not once we strip the bed and get the clean sheets on there.

When I give her some money for supplies, I don’t try to hide the roll of bills when I hand her the cash. I act like it’s the most normal thing in the world: yanking two crisp fifties out of a money roll and handing them over. I could have just done it while her back was turned but I didn’t because I’m tired of lying and concealing and making bullshit excuses.

She notices it, of course, and considers it for a second but she doesn’t ask any questions, although I expect she will soon enough; it’s blood money and she knows it, but I’m honestly starting to wonder when it comes right down to it, how much does she really care? I know one thing for sure: if Santa’s got questions, at some point she will fucking ask them. Besides, all money spends, and she could certainly use a bit of a capital injection. I’ll happily be her Sugar Daddy until it runs out.

I find myself wishing now that I had taken it all—that we could just keep running from our respective problems until the money’s gone. By then the novelty of me will have worn off for her. She’ll be able to go back to her old life and I’ll be able to end mine on a happy note. If I could choose my death, it would be some sort of major cardiac episode, with her on top of me, riding me straight to hell. The thought keeps me semi-erect until she returns from her errands.

When she enters the room she looks like she’s up to something but she won’t tell me what it is. She’s clearly got a plan for me, though, because she’s ready to get sloppy drunk and fuck and she’s not being shy about it.

It’s been a while since I’ve had tequila. After I left the southwest I’ve tried to avoid the stuff lest it catapult me into some Proustian nightmare. Right now, though, it’s more than fine because apparently the stuff makes her even crazier and hornier than she usually is. I mean, she’d have to be crazy to want me to bareback her asshole in this disgusting place but that is, apparently, exactly what she’d like me to do.

There was a time not too long ago when I would have hesitated, either out of fear or performance anxiety or some misguided attempt to save her from herself, but that’s all over now. I’ve thought about fucking her ass in so many different ways and scenarios and a cheap, dirty motel was definitely one of them. This is a scene straight out of some mid-wank fantasy, only it’s worlds better because she is here and she is real and she feels and tastes better than even my overly active imagination could dream up.

The experience of ass-fucking a person that you actually love is both strange and wonderful in ways even I don’t have the words to adequately explain. I don’t want to hurt her but she wants me to, in a way—in THAT way, which is a very specific type of painful pleasure that she’s just discovered she enjoys. It shouldn’t surprise me. She’s so desperate to be the bad girl she’d let me fuck her to tears and she’d be happy about it. But this is not what I’m here for. I want to make her feel good, and it seems I am successful.

Much as I’d love to spend eternity watching my cock sliding in and out of her asshole, I need to see her face. The urge to look her in the eye while I fuck her comes over me quickly and I flip her around and throw her legs up and slowly ease myself back in. She looks totally wrecked and lovely and so goddamn sexy that I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to last. I refuse to acknowledge the possibility that I will come first because I want—no, I need to feel her come or I’ll never forgive myself. After that, whatever happens happens. After that, there’s nothing else I need from this world.

And then it happens and I almost black out. I’ve got a sort of tunnel vision and all I can see is her face all twisted up and I know that she’s screaming loud but, to me, it sounds like it’s coming from miles away. All the blood in my body has gone straight to my cock and the entire world has narrowed to the six tight contractions that she makes before she goes totally limp beneath me. From a distance I hear myself telling her I’m about to blow but her response comes through clear as day.

“Come in me. Come in my ass.”

Of course that’s what she wants and she doesn’t have to tell me twice, and when I’m done I spread her open and admire the masterpiece I’ve created. I take a mental picture of what I can only describe as the most sinfully beautiful tableau vivant I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing. Some people like sunsets; for me, this is nature’s true beauty.

I’m reveling in the post-fuck haze when she comes out of the bathroom, looking like she’s not nearly done with me, and walks over to her purse.

“Surprise,” she says, and Oh Boy am I in for it. She’s holding a moderately-sized butt plug in her hand and I know it’s not meant for her.

I can’t say I haven’t thought about it. It was only once, when I was feeling particularly loathsome about dragging her into my shit. This was before she knew the truth, and I had envisioned what it might be like to come clean to her and have her punish me with a 10-inch strap-on to the keister. The masochism was strong in that fantasy, so of course I came all over myself. I can tell she’s shocked that I agree to it so quickly. Little does she know I would have let her do much, much worse.

As I take a fat glug of tequila it occurs to me that she’s likely never done this before. She’s got the plug and the lube ready and she’s giggling like a giddy schoolgirl and I can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing. Then she straddles me, leans down and purrs in my ear, “I stole it, you know.”

It surprises me but in a good way and I can feel myself well on my way to another erection at the thought of her, devilish and devious, committing petty theft in a sex shop. It’s wrong. I know it’s wrong, and I know it’s dangerous but all of this is wrong and dangerous. Like it or not, I’ve dragged her down to my level and she’s more than enjoying her stay here.

“You’ve done this before?” she asks, and I nod. “Tell me what to do.”

Part of me wishes that I didn’t have to walk her through it, that she would just dom the shit out of me like she did in my roughest fantasies, but here in the real world she needs a bit of guidance. She’s ready and willing to explore something new but she needs my help and, honestly, who am I to deny her?

I should have known she’d take to it quickly. She’s very bright and a real fast learner and oh so desperate to be filthy and sinful in the sack. She’s got her tongue tickling at my asshole and my cock in her hand and she’s really applying herself, and by the time I’m ready for it I barely need lube. We use it anyway, of course, because everything’s better with lube.

“How do you want it?” she asks and it occurs to me that I don’t know.

I weight the pros and cons. There are benefits to staying on my knees; there are benefits to being on my back. There isn’t really a wrong choice, though, so I make a game-time decision. I flip over, pull my legs up and in, and I wait. I’m more vulnerable at this very moment than I have maybe ever been. For a moment I’m all tensed up but I breathe in and exhale it all out of me because I love her and I trust her.

“Have at it,” I say, and she laughs and for a split second she looks almost bashful.

But then she’s back at it with the devious smile and blowjob lips and I feel the tip of the plug dip inside me.

“Slow and steady, now,” I say.

She does everything I tell her to do and she’s very careful with me in a way that’s so absolutely filthy tender that I feel like I’m ascending. I don’t need to tell her what to do from here. She knows how to give a world-class blowjob and ride a dick and she certainly doesn’t need any pointers from me.

It isn’t long before I’m blowing my load inside her, and she lets me because she doesn’t want to stop for one second and because she’s close, too. She manages to get hers not long after I got mine and when she comes it feels like a goddamn Slip-N-Slide down there. I think that maybe—just maybe—she’s squirted a hot mess all over the both of us. I’m so proud of her I could cry.

Pride—haven’t felt that one in a while. I still don’t understand why pride is a sin. I hope that she’s proud of herself and I tell her so. She tells me I’ve got a really fuckable ass and she looks forward to wrecking it in the future.

The future. What in Christ does the future look like now?

I tell myself to stop because I’ve still got a plug up my ass and now is most definitely not the time for an existential crisis. It’s time for a glass of water and a nice, long nap.

 

Chapter Text

We’ve been away for about 36 hours now and I’m no longer thinking about home. It’s not that I’ve forgotten it; it’s just that it all seems unimportant and far, far away. It’s almost like, to this point, my life is something that has happened to somebody else. I have her memories and I carry her scars but I am not her. I wonder if this is what Gene feels like all the time, so I ask him.

“Do you feel like a different person now? As Gene, I mean. Do you feel like he’s different from the others?”

He stares off into space as he says, “I’m not sure anymore.”

We are sitting together on a park bench, drinking gas station coffee and enjoying an unseasonably warm day in Who-Knows-Where, Nebraska. We’re desperately trying to be normal, to do normal couple-y things together, and we do a decent job faking it. But the lie hangs in the air like smog between us. We both know there’s nothing normal about any of this.

“I feel different,” I say. “In a good way, though. I feel… lighter somehow.”

He sighs. “You know we can’t stay here forever.”

“One more day,” I say.

He puts his arm around my shoulder and I snuggle up to him. He feels warm and solid against me and I close my eyes.

“Just one more day,” I whisper, but I don’t think he can hear me.

We’re in the Denny’s parking lot when my phone rings. It’s Donna and I send her straight to voicemail because I’m not ready for her or any of the things that come with her. Besides, she’s calling her sister, Santa, and I am not that woman.

“You should answer,” he says. “Just to let them know you’re alive. Don’t want them filing a missing person’s report, which from my limited knowledge of your family seems like something they would absolutely do.”

He’s right, of course, but I just don’t fucking want to, and I let out a truly obnoxious whining sound that makes him smile.

“Get it over with,” he says. “I’m starving.”

“God-fucking-dammit. Fine. But I’m just gonna text her because I cannot talk on the phone right now.”

I quickly type “im alive ok just leave me alone” and hit send, but before I can throw my phone in my purse and go on with my day I get a text back from her.

Dad had a heart attack. At hospital. Come asap.

When see those words strung together I feel like I might have a heart attack of my own—some sort of sympathy response to a situation that I, myself, caused. Suddenly I’m me again and it feels near as bad as it ever has. The guilt hits me like a shot to the sternum and before I know it I’m crying hysterically and screaming at Gene.

“We have to go back! Now. Right now.”

I shove my phone in his face to show him the text because I can’t make myself say the words.

“Shit,” he says. “OK.” He takes one look at me and says, “I’ll drive.”

He practically carries me out of the car and around to the passenger seat and the entire time I’m saying, “I did this. I did this.”

“No,” he says. “You didn’t.”

But he’s wrong.

My entire life I have tried to shield my father from the person that I really am. My mother knows—there’s no fooling her—but my father has always wanted to believe that I have a pure heart, that I’m a good person with bad luck. I have done my best to keep that illusion alive for him but it’s shattered now and there’s no putting it back together. It’s as I’ve always suspected: if he knew who I really was, it’d kill him.

Before we leave I tell Gene to text Donna back—tell her I’m out of town and it’ll take me a few hours to get back. We make a quick stop at the motel to gather our things and pay for our stay and then we’re on the road for what seems like an eternity. Gene drives faster than is prudent but it’s a good thing I’m not driving because I seem to have formed some type of tunnel vision on the horizon, lost inside my own mind. Usually I would listen to music to drown out these kind of thoughts but right now I must have silence. I need to think the worst. I need to be prepared.

If I had been thinking clearly, I would have told him to take himself home first, but in the state I’m in it doesn’t even occur to me. And then it does, but it’s far too late.

I see the car first—that stupidly large SUV with the fucking stick figure family decal on the back window. Donna is just to the left as we pull in, standing with her arms crossed outside by the bumper. I know that she sees me—that she’s been waiting there for God knows how long just to catch me—and now she’s seen Gene, too.

“Fuck,” I say. “That’s my sister.”

He asks, “What do you want me to do?” but there’s really no other options.

“Fuck it. Just pull in next to her.” I get out and before I shut the door I tell him, “Stay in the car unless I tell you otherwise.”

He does as I command and now I’m standing face-to-face with my Donna. I feel like I might puke and it occurs to me that I can’t remember the last time I threw up sober. I almost laugh but I don’t. Instead I say, “Donna, can we do this later? I need to see Dad.”

She pauses and then she looks at her feet and says, “Dad’s not here.”

My first thought is that “Dad’s not here” means something else—not on this astral plane, shuffled off the mortal coil, fucking deceased—but then Donna looks up right at me and I see that she isn’t sad; she’s angry. I think to myself she would never, not Donna.

“What the fuck do you mean Dad’s not here?” I ask.

Donna’s voice is cold and no-nonsense, like she’s putting the children to bed whether they like it or not: “He was never here. He’s fine. He’s at home watching the news in his robe and slippers. I just needed to talk to you and—”

Before I can process what I’m doing, I lunge forward and slap her straight across the face. I scream, “Fuck you. How dare you?” and I swing around and hit her in the shoulder with my purse. Gene’s gun falls out and the two of us freeze and stare at the ground where it lies.

All I can say is “Fuck.”

She’s pretty calm for someone who just got the shit slapped out of her and is currently standing over a gun. She says, “You should probably pick that up,” and now I’m really fucked.

She’s got the goods on me now: a mysterious new boyfriend and a concealed weapon. From the look on her face, it’s far more than she’d bargained for.

“Let’s just go somewhere private—you and me and your new friend in there—and you can tell me just exactly what the fuck is going on because I am done chasing after you for answers. It’s not fair, Santa. It’s not right.”

I’m so angry. I feel like I’ve never been this angry, but she’s absolutely correct and maybe that’s why I’m angry.

“You’re right,” I say, and I mean it. “Let’s go to my house. I want to go home.”

She gets in her car, starts the engine, and drives away and for a minute I just stand there watching her go. I hear Gene behind me getting out of the car and walking around to my side and then a cigarette appears in my peripheral vision. I snatch it from his hand and light it up and lean against him as I smoke it.

“Who the fuck are you going to be to her?” I ask. “Or to them?”

*****

 We are all three sitting in my living room, having the world’s worst tea party, complete with stale Oreos, and everyone is sipping even though the tea is still far too hot. I know I have to speak first but I’m not ready and I’m willing to burn the shit out of my mouth for more time. Donna had been patient—allowed me to get some refreshments together for our little chat, like the good little hostesses we were brought up to be. She pretended everything was normal, because that’s what we do, but now it’s time for answers.

Gene and I had decided on The Lie on the way to my place. He’d been able to come up with a workable backstory pretty fucking quickly. At this point, I’m more impressed than surprised.

“So now you’ve met Gene,” I say. “We’ve been together for about a year. We met at one of those support groups for bereavement and just sort of… clicked.”

“I didn’t know you were still going to those,” she says.

“Well I am.”

She says, “Oh,” and takes a sip of her tea.

Gene chimes in, right on cue: “Santa wanted to me to come meet your family but I said no. I asked her not to tell you all about me yet because I just…”

“He’s not ready to be around lots of new people yet,” I say. “The loss is still very fresh. Both parents within a week of each other—can you imagine?”

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” she says, and she means it.

“Now about the gun,” I say, “that’s… complicated and I’m not really sure it’s my place to tell—”

“It’s not hers,” Gene interrupts. “It’s mine. She took it away from me because… well…”

“Stop,” I say. “You don’t owe anyone an explanation.”

“It’s fine,” he says. “No more secrets.” He turns to Donna and says, “I was feeling really low. I was gonna use it, you know, on myself. Ssanta found it and took it away from me. Gave me an earful about it, too.”—chuckle, dramatic pause—“She saved me, God as my witness. She’s my guardian angel.”

And fuck me if he doesn’t squeeze out a single tear. Christ, he’s good. She’s almost crying he’s so good. I reach over and wipe the tear away and I lovingly stroke his cheek before turning my attention to Donna.

“I didn’t want to tell you guys about Gene until he was feeling up to it,” I say, “and he’s just really been struggling. And, I mean, you know our family—we’re a lot to handle for a person without Gene’s social anxiety issues. I just didn’t think it would be good for him—you know, mentally—to have to go through one of our family dinners. You can you understand that, can’t you?”

She sighs. “I suppose. But you could have told me at least. I’m not like them.”

“Oh, sweetie,” I say. “Yes you are.”

“I am NOT,” she says. “How many of your goddamn secrets have I kept over the years?”

“A lot.”

“Well there you go.”

“Touché,” I say, and it’s done—at least for now.

We’ve pulled it off and now she’s sworn to secrecy and I do believe she’ll keep her word. She’ll keep the rest of them off my back until I’m ready, though I don’t quite know what I’m prepping for. Because it’s decision time, no more avoiding it. If I stay with Gene, he’ll be exposed. My family is a bunch of Nosy Nancys, fully incapable of minding their own business, and something WILL happen eventually. If I leave him alone, he’ll be safe. It’s the only way to keep him safe.

But I don’t want to—I refuse—so deeper down this rabbit hole we go.

Chapter Text

We’ve been rehearsing our lies for a week now and it’s almost time for the big show: Sunday dinner at Santa’s parents’ place. I’ve been hog-tied in the friggin desert and felt less afraid. I’m not fooling myself. I know this kind of exposure is how people get caught. It’s the kind of thing you hear about and you shake your head and you say, “What in Christ’s name was he thinking?”

But I’m not really thinking anymore. I’ve been swept up in Hurricane Santa and I can’t do anything but exactly what she tells me to do, exactly when she tells me to do it. It’s wrong and it’s dangerous and it’s stupid but I can’t stop myself from barreling forward, consequences be damned.

Because it feels good. I feel alive. What is it the kids are saying these days? YOLO? Well, I’m on my third life now and I need to make this one count. I don’t have another transformation in me. This is it: Gene—my final form. And if there’s a chance I can make a real man out of him I suppose I’ve got to give it the ol’ college try.

We’re in Santa’s house, in Santa’s bed, where I’ve spent the last four nights. I think she likes fucking me in the bed she used to share with that shitbag ex-husband of hers and I’m happy to oblige. Tonight she wants to play a game. It’s more of a pop-quiz, really, which isn’t something I’ve ever really enjoyed until now. She’s testing me—our story—and for every correct answer, I get a little something special.

“Where’d you grow up?” she asks.

She’s got her fingers hooked around the waistband of my boxers, waiting.

“Akron,” I say. “Born and raised.”

“Good boy.” She pulls my boxers down and discards them. “What was the name of the street you grew up on?”

“C’mon. She’s not gonna ask me that.”

“She might,” she says, “but that’s not the point, now is it?”

I want to say something snarky but I want her mouth on me more. “Forbes Avenue,” I say. “Near the airport. Planes used to come in so close the walls would shake.”

“Excellent,” she says, and she wraps her mouth around the tip of my cock and swirls her tongue around a few times.

“Where did you go to college?” she asks.

“No college for me, ma’am. Right to work at Goodyear, just like my Pops before me, God rest his soul.”

“Oh,” she says, “that’s really good.”

I smile down at her. “I aim to please.”

She licks me from base to tip and asks, “How did your parents die?”

“Jesus,” I say—and not just because her tongue feels excellent (which it does).

I say it because it occurs to me that I’m having dinner with Mamma Maria: a woman who has turned prying into an art form. She’s going to want to solve all my mysteries, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me. Perhaps she has more in common with Santa than either of them would care to admit.

She deep throats me once, quick, and pops off. “How did they die?” she asks.

And then she starts to blow me in earnest and the real test begins: can I remember all of this under duress? Objectively speaking, this is pretty much the opposite of duress, but the fact remains that if I can keep it all straight in my head while getting some truly phenomenal head, I should be good to go for the dinner. She’s not making it easy on me but I take a few deep breaths and I begin.

“My dad had a heart attack in his armchair watching college football (Go Buckeyes!). He was 74 years old. My mom was younger but she was never really a healthy woman—not even when I was a kid—and after Pops died I did my best to take care of her. One day she had one of her dizzy spells at the top of the stairs and she fell down and, well, she never woke up.”

She hums mhmm onto my cock and then comes up for air and starts to stroke me at a decent pace. “Then what?” she asks.

“Then maybe I’ll squeeze out a few tears. Dab my eye with a dinner napki- Oh Fuck. Fuck, I’m gonna come.”

“We’re not done yet,” she says and stills her hand.

I beg her to please let me come but she says, “No. Not until you answer one more question.”

“What? Fuck. Please.”

“So, Gene, what do you love the most about my daughter?”

I smile and say, “her tight little asshole,” and she loses it laughing and lets me come on her face.

I couldn’t pick just one thing to love about her anyway. It was a stupid question.

 

The next morning I find myself in the church parking lot. I’m in my Sunday best (which isn’t particularly great) and I’m steeling myself for the experience of Catholic mass. I haven’t been to a mass —well, one that wasn’t a funeral mass—since I was a kid. It was unpleasant even then, when I was just a bored little shit, playing with wax dripping and coating my fingers with the stuff just for something to do. I’ve lived several lives since then and now I can’t even imagine the experience. God knows everything—my many, many sins—and I don’t particularly want to talk about it with Him or any of his earthly middlemen. No, all of that is my business, and I suppose it’s Santa’s now, too.

I gave my confession to her. Screw the priests. Never trusted the bastards anyway.

Santa and I decided that the best plan of action is to meet the rest of her family after mass. There’s a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that Santa doesn’t want her mother to see us—the unmarried sinners—arriving to Sunday mass in the same car. The implications are just too scandalous for her and the other nosy fucks waiting outside the church to see what they can see. I’m going to wait in my car for ten minutes, then sneak in and sit in the back.

The church bells are giving me a headache, or maybe it’s just another fun symptom of alcohol withdrawal. I haven’t quit completely, because it would probably kill me, but I’m being better about it. A few drinks at night and that’s it. No nips in the morning, no boozing before dinner. I’m drinking responsibly for the first time in a long time and it should feel better but it doesn’t. I can feel the damage I’ve already done. I can almost smell my body rotting from the inside. I roll down the car window even though it’s cold.

My ten minutes is up and when I open the car door I start to dry heave. There’s not much in my stomach but coffee and toast, and it comes up quick and clean in the hedges at the base of the statue of Our Lady, Star of the Sea. I apologize to Her and she remains as she always is—placid, maternal, forgiving. I’ve never believed in the Virgin Birth but I have to respect Mary for her commitment to the lie. Right now, I need her strength more than I need God’s forgiveness.

I make it inside just before the introductory rites. There’s one seat left, in the second-to-last pew, and I snatch it up before another latecomer gets to it. I don’t know where Santa is but I’d imagine her mother likes to sit as far to the front as she can. She’s the type that likes the priest to see her there, in all her penitential glory. I don’t want to see anyone yet. I’m not ready. So since I have to be here, I might as well use it as a time of quiet contemplation to prepare for my trial by fire. I make the sign of the cross reflexively and it begins.

 

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

 

It’s been years but my muscle memory kicks in almost immediately: when to stand, when to kneel, when to sing, when to sit—wash, rinse, repeat. I can almost remember all the words and what I don’t I can garble my way through. I hear the priest’s voice loud and crisp and clear: “My brothers and sisters, to prepare ourselves for the mystery of Christ’s love, let us call to mind our sins.”

I think to myself, “Let’s not,” but I do it anyway.

 

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

 

Soon I start to zone out and lose myself in the stained glass. It’s a sunny day and the colors are bold and brilliant. It’s got a real calming effect on me—used to when I was a kid, too. A lot of the Catholic iconography is, well, aggressive to say the least, especially for children. It was unsettling when I was a boy and not that much easier on the eyes as a man but I feel God more in the light through those windows than in anything else in this church.

I’m thinking about my story now, and I know I’ve got the whole thing solid in my head but my confidence is waning the longer the mass goes on. I find myself praying—legitimately praying—that I can pull off this lie. Not for my own benefit but for Santa, because she needs a win in the eyes of her family and I want to be the one to give it to her.

The priest reads from Mark and I feel like my skin is burning.

 

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,

Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:

All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

 

I almost laugh but it isn’t really funny. Not anymore.

I space back out during the homily because I doubt this guy has ever had an original thought in his life and if he did I’m 99.9% sure I would disagree with him. He is, after all, the same guy that made Santa feel like a piece of trash during her divorce. What I’d like to do is punch him in his smug fucking face but instead I fake eye contact and look past him, to a bloodied crucified Jesus dying for my sins. The thing must be ten feet tall if it’s an inch and I’m struck by a memory of a Sunday morning mass with my mother when the sight of another, even gorier Jesus made me cry. I couldn’t have been more than six years old and my mother, bless her, told me that the fear I was feeling was just the experience of God’s love. I remember thinking to myself, “If this is God’s love, I really don’t want it.”

I somehow remember the Nicene Creed, in it’s entirety, and I give thanks for the nuns who beat it into us because the people around me are starting to cast inquisitive glances my way. Not that I’m doing anything out of the ordinary. If anything, I’m fitting in quite nicely. They’re just curious, of course. It’s mostly just old folks—the parish lifers—who must be wondering, who is this stranger that has entered our sacred place?

 

Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.

 

The thought creeps into my head unbidden but it’s not an unpleasant one: Santa in a white dress, holding some hideous bouquet of her mother’s choosing, smiling at me and looking like some sort of angelic princess I surely don’t deserve. It’s what she deserves, though—a real fresh start with a good, loyal man who will love and cherish her until his dying breath. I play around in the thought for a while: I lift the veil, I put the ring on her finger, I kiss her chastely to the sound of applause. It feels like a punch to the gut when I come back to myself and remember that will never be me.

 

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us;

and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

 

It’s almost time for the communion rites and I’m starting to sweat now because the last thing I want to do is go up there and take the body and blood. I’m not ready to be seen. I like my little spot in the back, tucked away. I do it, though, because Santa said I have to.

“She’ll know if you don’t,” she’d said. “She’ll be watching.”

This is, perhaps, the most terrifying thing—knowing that the entire time I am standing here in line, inching my way toward the front for a sip of watered down wine and a stale wafer, that Mamma Maria is searching the crowd for me, asking Santa, “Is that him? Is that him?”

I look down at the floor as I shuffle forward because I know, especially as I get closer to the front, that they can see me. I can feel their eyes on me—the whole family—and as I accept the body of Christ I almost choke on it.

 

Amen.

 

I take the blood and find myself wishing it was a hell of a lot stronger.

 

Amen.

 

As I turn to walk back down the aisle I see Santa out of the corner of my eye but I don’t dare look at her. I’m practically shaking with nervous energy as I walk to my seat and squeeze back into the pew. Not much longer now. The priest is making the announcements and I vaguely register something about a bake sale and a clothing drive but I’m deep inside my own head, trying to quell the rising panic.

And then, finally, he says, “The mass is ended. Go in peace,” and I respond, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically, “Thanks be to God!”

There’s a brief moment of relief that this Hell on Earth is over, but then I remember that my time in the real hot seat is about to begin. I need to get outside. I need a bit of air. I need a fucking cigarette.

This wasn’t part of the plan but now I think maybe it should be. A smoker can dip outside whenever they’re feeling the itch—a built in escape plan. Sure, I might seem like a bit of a dirtbag but better to put forth one obvious flaw right off the bat then have her mom probing deep for the good dirt. I wish I would’ve thought of this earlier and convinced Santa it’s a smart move but there’s no point in dwelling on it because it’s happening now. I’m out at my car, digging into the glove compartment for my smokes and lighting one and suddenly I feel exposed. I feel like everyone’s watching me, probably because they are.

I’m leaning against the trunk, facing away from the church steps and trying to absorb as much nicotine as I can, as quickly as I can, and I’m feeling a bit light-headed. It’s probably from the cigarette but could just as easily be from my off-the-charts nerves. The fight-or-flight is strong in me now and, if I’m being honest with myself, I want to get in my car and drive away and just keep going. I can’t do that to her, though. We’re in too deep, so fight it is.

I hear the sound of several pairs of heels clicking in my direction and I know what I’ll see before turning around: Santa’s fake smile and several pairs of probing eyes. I drop my smoke and grind it into the asphalt and when I swing around to greet them I put on my best “Howd’ya do” face. The first thing I see is her mother’s ridiculous hat—like a bird’s nest puked up Pepto-Bismol.

“So,” she says, “you’re the infamous Gene.”

I clear my throat and say, “Guilty as charged.”

“You know, Gene,” she says, “smoking is a nasty habit. It’ll give you the cancer.”

I would fake remorse but she’s managed to actually make me feel bad. Jesus, she’s good. Santa is staring daggers at me and I scramble for a response.

“I’m trying to quit,” I say. “Just nerves, I suppose.”

Mamma Maria smiles at me and takes my hands in hers. “Nothing to be nervous about, my boy,” she says, and she pats me on the stomach. “Now, I hope you brought your appetite!”

She reminds me of a witchier version of my own mother and I can’t help but smile.

“I sure did. Skipped breakfast, even. I hear you make a world-class lasagna.”

She tut-tuts me and says, “Oh go on.”

Santa’s voice is harsh and clear from behind her. “Mamma, let’s go before we all freeze to death. Babbo’s waiting in the car.”

“Yes, right, ok,” she says. “Now you follow us, Gene, and don’t you dare run off!”

“Wouldn’t dream of it, ma’am,” I lie.