You'll Go To Hell for What Your Dirty Mind is Thinking.Mali, fuming and sorely wishing she could exhale pure flame, snapped the plastic cover of her PDA closed. She rose to her feet. Gordon and Parker, who flanked her on either side, exchanged a look, shrugged, and offered her their forearms, which she accepted. She lead them toward the front of the gymnasium where the ticket counter - a small red contraption, shaped like a conk shell, that distributed numbers to those who wished to address the audience - was being manned by a gangly, ruby-faced teenager. She refused to let her stare fall away from the boy as she approached.
Joe and Casey, left behind in the wake of Mali's indignation, exchanged sighs and carefully drew into one another. Casey wrapped her arm around Joe's waist (it felt so much thinner now, perhaps she should get him to eat more?) and Joe tickled the soft flesh of her right palm with all of his fingers.
"What do you think?" Joe inquired. He noticed her gaze was fixed on a door at the far end of the gymnasium. Casey turned her head and pecked him on the lips before leaping to her feet and sauntering toward the exit. Joe followed, tethered by a leash he could not see, only sense.
They reached the door and Casey studied the crowd nearby. No one was paying them any mind as the angry Asian man continued his tirade up on the stage. She looked to Joe for approval; he shook his head "No" and frowned. A cheer came up from the crowd and Casey, after offering Joe a grin, ducked into the doorway and disappeared up a long flight of dark stairs. Joe sighed, struck his head against the frame once, shoved his hands in his pockets, and followed.
He lost her midway up the stairs, as the flights turned and twisted, occasionally plateauing into a landing before again resuming the ascent of steps. "Casey?" he called. No answer.
Once he reached the top, the tired muscles in his calves ached and burned, defaming his insistence on climbing with hot acid to lap at his joints. He huffed and bent over, bracing his hands on his knees. Three coughing fits and a couple minutes later, air finally settled in his lungs and he again called her name.
"Casey? Where are you? I don't think we're supposed to be up here," he shouted, studying his surroundings. He found himself in what he supposed was the attic, a long expanse of sloping ceilings and moth-eaten storage bins. Several strings of Christmas lights stretched above and in front of him, his only source of light in the shadows.
"Joe? Come to me," Casey's voice called from the far end of the attic.
Joe found her sitting behind a barricade of crates (labelled "Annual Kidney Disease Bake Sale") on a salmon-colored blanket that appeared immune to the ravages of time, dust, and moth alike. She had curled her legs under her and draped the excess of the cloth across her lap so that only the mounds and shadows of the suggestion of her lower half were detectable. She smiled up at him and offered him her hand. When he accepted, she gently pulled him down to sit in front of her.
"I really don't think we're supposed to be here, you know."
Her hands moved beneath the blanket for a time, then appeared. She held the die.
"Tell me a story," she asked, smiling.
She shook her head and allowed the die to fall from her fingertips. It fell into the blanket, rolled only twice, and settled on four.
"Casey, please, I really think we should go find the others. Mali's probably speaking by now."
"You have a story to tell," Casey insisted softly.
Joe sighed and rested his back against the crates behind him, then began.
Be thankful for small miracles, he told himself. There were no leaks in the ceiling above or around their bed, so they kept dry on nights like this when God was up to his old antics of trying to drown all of creation. Everywhere else in their home? Now that's a different story.
He held her as she softly purred her song of sleep, her back cradled against his stomach and their legs drawn into each other's, mercilessly entangled. His feet had gone to sleep the same time as she and now teased him with pinpricks. His right hand was her pillow, slid just between the back of her neck and the soft flesh just below her ear; her golden hair tickled the insides of his fingers every time she breathed. His left hand, he was not ashamed to admit, cupped the pearl-white skin of her breast, and he felt every heartbeat. He'd stay awake all night if it meant this.
How did I find you? he asked her in his head. But of course, he remembered.
He had noticed her while subjecting himself to one of the more rigorous competitions his fraternity had invented: a test to see who could consume the most Starbucks double shot espressos in ten minutes. With a snap of his elder brother's fingers, he and another pledge lifted the chilled cans to their lips and drank deep.
At first, it didn't seem so bad. He liked espresso.
Then came the second. And the third. The fourth, the fifth, the sixth. He was starting to not like espresso by the twelfth. At sixteen, he swore he'd never give Starbucks another time of his money. By twenty-two, he was conspiring to burn down every local franchise he could find.
To get his mind off the sluice of silky fluid pouring down his throat, he let his eyes wander. Campus was alit with the first day of a new semester. Students strode in massive, snaking lines between buildings, each as unique as the last and all sporting the same expression of dulled excitement.
Suckers, he thought. He'd skipped his morning classes that day and felt all the wiser in doing so.
Then, he saw her.
She strode with timidity, her footsteps carefully placed one after another. The confident strides belonged to the German shepherd who strode ahead of her, its tail wagging back and forth like a metronome, its pink tongue lazily spilling from the left side of its black gums. A red harness, fixed around the dog's waist, led to a handle that she gripped in her right hand. They approached a bench, which she discovered by tapping one of its legs with the toe of her right shoe. She said something to the dog and it heeled. Gingerly, she felt her way to her seat and cooed to her companion, who responded with a warm bark and more wagging of its tail.
"Time!" his elder called. It didn't matter. His challenger had been met with defeat but a moment before as the deluge of coffee came pouring back out of his throat. His elder clapped a hand on both of their shoulders and announced the victor. He'd make a fine addition to their fraternity, the elder told him.
It still didn't matter.
With the contest concluded and his manhood appeased, he quickly jogged over to her. She stared straight ahead from behind large black shades, gently stroking the soft fur between her dog's ears. The dog watched him intently as he approached, cocking its head as if to say "Hello, friend. Don't be a fuck up or I'll rend your limbs."
She was beautiful. Her hair was the color of sun-stained wheat and fell across her shoulders like rain. Her skin was pale and spotted with the faintest of freckles across her cheeks and forearms, but her legs, exposed for less than a foot between the hem of her skirt and the tops of her high-boots, were immaculate and featureless. Her breasts rose and fell with her breathing, constrained and (he imagined) gasping for air within the confines of her ribbed fleece turtleneck. She was smiling softly, a feature that seemed more permanent than perfunctory.
"Handsome dog you have there," he said.
"I wouldn't know," she replied. It seemed neither shallow nor self-deprecating, but warm instead. She extended her free hand in an open gesture. "My name's Alice."
He remembered all of it, even now, even the taste of twenty-some-odd espressos chilling his insides. He wanted only to hold her, to keep her warm and dry in the face of the tempest raging beyond their window. She sighed in her sleep and he drew her closer.
At their feet, her guide lay patiently, his black eyes fixed on them. Over the years, his expression had gradually molted, though perceptible of course only to him; from a look of distrust to a look of betrayal, the kind of stare a man might receive from the husband of the housewife he's known.
"Sorry, boy," he said. The dog only sighed and curled his snout to tail and drifted off to sleep.
Joe finished and realized Casey had drawn him into her lap, his head nestled in the valley of blanket between her knees. He shivered slightly, the cold drafts of the attic creeping under his clothes and raising gooseflesh across his shoulders, but he felt the heat of her and it warmed his bones. He rose to kiss her, their mouths parting and a sigh escaping her. His hand slid beneath the blanket and felt the warm flesh of her thigh beneath his fingertips.
He broke the kiss by only an inch. "You- -?"
Casey closed her eyes and smiled, guiding his hand under the blankets to the greatest warmth she possessed. He explored her with his fingers and felt hers tugging at his belt.
"This can't be a good idea."
Her small, nimble fingers crept inside his jeans and found evidence to the contrary. She wrapped him, too, in her blanket and he pushed, sliding inside her. His eyes met hers.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?!" came a man's voice. They both looked and shook with a start.
Neither had the foresight to keep the blanket wrapped around them; it fell away, exposing them in full to the tall, middle-aged man in blue whose badge read "Sheriff".