THE CAUTIONER'S TALE, Prologue and Chapter One

So, anyways, THE CAUTIONER'S TALE

Jeff note: Hi. Hello. How are you? So, this is the first two chapters of THE CAUTIONER’S TALE. Yes. It’s not just a meme. It’s a real book. Unpublished as of now. But I dream of publishing this book one day. For those of you who follow or read my stuff for ASOIAF, you’re quickly going to find that this book is not fantasy. The emotional core of the book is found in me: my own experiences coming out of war and not having it together. But it’s not just a war story. It’s a … well, you’ll just need to read it yourself. Feel free to comment here, tweet at me or DM me what you think: good or bad. It can only get better. And hey. Thanks for reading.

PROLOGUE: NEW YEAR’S DAY, 2008

Interstate 695: The Beltway

A line of steel, plastic and brake lights bleeds into the horizon.

Stupid. I’m so fucking stupid.

Another arctic gust whistles against my car. I can’t feel the wind whipping my skin, but I shiver anyways. I throw the heat on. The air hits my face cold, slowly warming until the tip of my nose burns. I let the pain linger.

At least I feel something.

The cars in front of me lurch forward. I pick up speed slow at first, and then I’m flying but only for a moment. Red taillights flash urgent ahead, and I jam the brakes before I can ruin someone else’s life.

Of course there’d be a traffic jam on the interloop. It’s the fucking holidays.

As I soak in my misery, my cell phone buzzes angrily in my pocket. It’s probably Bubbles or John. Shit, the way my day is going, it’s fucking Hurricane or Dario, or worse: Wendy. I ignore the buzzing and stare at the mass of vehicles ahead.

It’s just fucking perfect that a drive that I thought would clear my mind hasn’t moved in five minutes.  

My pocket buzzes again, even angrier.

I swear to god, if it’s fucking Bubbles calling me, I’m going to ram this car into a guardrail. 

As the buzzing subsides, I slump down into my seat. I run my fingers down my face and glance up at the rear-view mirror; the same tired, haggard complexion I’d seen every day for the past seven months stares back at me.

This has to end.

My gaze shifts away from the mirror and over the red glow towards the dark horizon. I look for an exit.

Nothing.

Save for the bleeding taillights and the dull glow of my car’s dashboard, I’m alone in the darkness. My brain reaches out, searching for a happy memory, a stray positive thought, something to ward off the black. I try to think back to a time when I felt happy, when life was worth living.

Absurdly, I go back to the day Wendy gave me her Bible. I see her waiting for me to respond. I see her smile when I tell her ‘thank you’ and hear her excited ‘yes’ when I ask if I could keep the Bible. I only asked to keep the fucking thing, because I wanted something to tie me to Wendy forever.

I was such a fucking fool.

Realization washes over me.

If the only happy memory I could conjure was of the woman who ended up fucking me over the most, how can I expect to experience any real happiness in the future? Maybe it’s not even worth trying. Maybe if I ...

The bright glow of brake lights of the car in front switches off and suddenly there’s space to move.

... let go of the wheel.

My fingers loosen against plastic.

... push the gas pedal down.

Twenty, thirty, forty miles an hour. My foot presses down. Fifty, sixty miles an hour. A line of T-Wall barriers looms over an embankment in the distance like gray, stone giants.

If I picked up more speed, I could vault over up the hill and smash into the wall. Then all the misery would be over. All the nightmares from Iraq would end. I could stop fucking up. This can all just be over.

I need this to be over.

I reach to my side and thumb the seatbelt off. My foot pushes the pedal all the way to the floor. My car shakes and the engine pitch shrieks. My head presses deep into the headrest from the momentum. Seventy, eighty, ninety, one hundred miles an hour. I know that when I hit the wall, my body will fly through the windshield and then smash into the concrete.

And then I’ll die. Instantly. Do I deserve a quick death?

I ease my foot off the gas, and my car slows to a speed that will result in a slower, more agonizing fate. The walls grow tall as skyscrapers, illuminated white against my headlights.

This is it. I was never anything but a fucking loser going nowhere.

This is for all the shit I’ve done.


MAY 2007

Baltimore Washington International Airport

The engines whine as the plane begins its final approach. We hover parallel over the runway just a few feet above the ground for a moment, delaying, delaying, delaying until finally a slight shudder and roar rumble through the passenger hold, and we are wheels down.

I glance down at my watch.

6:45 PM.

I’m back. I’m fucking back.

When the fasten seatbelt sign turns off, I jump out of my seat, grab my puke-green carry-on bag and make my way … home.

A pretty stewardess smiles at me at the exit. “Have a nice stay in Baltimore!”

I pause at the opening, promise refracting through the condensation on gangplank ahead, the dim horror of the cabin and the past behind. I turn towards the stewardess still smiling at me and see something I hadn’t seen in a long time. Something hopeful. I lean in to kiss her.

A voice stops me. “Whoa, buddy.”

The line of people behind me looks annoyed or uncomfortable. I’m not sure which. I give the stewardess one last longing look before stepping off the plane.

“Welcome to Baltimore,” the banner says under a flag of black and gold checkerboard and the crosses of Lord Calvert.

Welcome home.

I count backwards to the last time I lived here.

One. Two. Three. Four.

Four years. I haven’t lived here for four years. But I’m here, and I guess life can’t get worse.

Four years ago, the decision to leave seemed easy. I was giving up a life of disappointment to “embrace the challenge” and all the other bullshit my recruiter fed me. Four years ago, I wanted to be “front-line combat.” I didn’t know what it meant.

I learned.

A loud alarm and a flashing, yellow light jolt me. I come to beside the faded chrome and rubber of a luggage carousel in the basement of the BWI airport. I check my watch again and wonder if John is waiting for me outside.

John is my best friend … my only friend. I guess that makes him my best friend by default. Assigned to the same freshman floor in college, I didn't know him until after I walked in on my Residential Advisor mounting my first roommate on my bed. After that, our Residential Adviser quickly re-assigned the most strait-laced kid as my roommate to avoid any unpleasantness. I only spent one semester at college, but John and I stayed friends ... best friends.

An olive-green duffel bag falls from the opening onto the conveyor belt. I reach out to grab it when something tugs at my jacket. I turn to find an old woman with thick glasses hunched over a walker.

“Thank you for your service, young man.”

My chest tightens, my heart racing. My bag moves out of reach. The old woman looks up at me, expecting me to say something, anything.

“Yes.” 

Her eyes brim with emotions. She purses her lips, and I think she’s about to say another horseshit platitude. Instead, she tugs at my sleeve twice before turning away. My chest lightens, and I feel like I can breathe again. If only she knew what that meant.

If only she fucking knew.

The automatic doors slide apart, and I walk into an oven blast of heat. Catching my breath, I shuffle to the curb and wait for John.

I don’t wait long. A gray sedan without a hint of dust or scratch slows and then stops in front of me. John pops out from the driver’s side door, familiar dark brown hair coiffed from the top of his head, an ironed shirt pressing against his chest. Four years haven’t aged him a bit.

He cocks a half-grin at me. “Need a lift?”

I return the smile. “Yeah.” I squint at John, “How’d you know it was me when you pulled up?”

“Do you see anyone else here wearing a Marine Corps Dress Uniform?”

I look down at my crisp black jacket with red fringes circling the collar and down my torso. I lower my hands to smooth the tiny creases around the brass buttons, then adjust the white belt to ensure it’s absolutely in-line with the buttons. When the belt doesn’t budge, I yank it and two lines of ribbons across my chest pop into view. From all appearances, I’m a decorated, honorable Marine.

The heat presses down on me.

I need to get out of this uniform. I don’t care if I’m still technically a Marine for another thirty days. I need to get this fucking thing off me.

John clears his throat, “You coming?”

I shake myself from my stupor, “Yeah. Sorry about that. Can you pop the trunk?”

#

Ten minutes from the airport and the hazy Baltimore skyline shimmers into view. I look over my town, my … home.

John catches my look, “Good to be back?”

Jutting skyscrapers, corner bars and sprawling, brown row-houses fade into the horizon.

“Yes.”

John shakes his head with a smile, “I never thought I’d hear you say that. The way you talked about the West Coast ... you didn’t seem like you ever wanted to come home.”

My chest tightens again. “Things change.”

John flinches. “Sorry man. I didn’t mean to bring up, y’know …”

“No worries.”

We pass the time in silence until two massive, granite structures emerge to our left. John points to the larger stadium with giant light fixtures stabbing into the sky. “Did you hear that the Ravens almost went to the Super Bowl?”

“They did?”

“Yeah. You didn’t watch the playoffs?”

I shift uncomfortably in my seat. “Didn’t get a chance to.”

John flicks a look at me. “Huh.” The lights of Camden Yards ignite the Baltimore skyline. John’s voice cuts through again. “Well, your Orioles suck this year, like always. We should catch a baseball game sometime. Tickets are cheap.”

“We should do that sometime.”

John nods. “We should. Hey, did you know that seats are cheap if you show a student I.D.?”

The lights float by. “Cool.”

John switches lanes. “You thinking about going back to college or something now that you’re back?”

I watch the rearview mirror until the stadiums fade behind us. When they’re gone, I gaze ahead and notice a billboard with a smoke-colored bottle of vodka plastered on the side. “I don’t know. Maybe. So, where are we celebrating tonight?”

“Uh, maybe we could grab a quick beer or something, but I can’t stay out late. Got a paper that’s due on Monday.”

I punch John in the arm. “Come on, man. Live a little. Besides, my cousin wants to meet up with us tonight.”

“Paul?” John shoots me a look. “Do you think that’s a … wise idea?”

I shrug. “He’s not that bad, dude.”

“Didn’t he blow off picking you up from the airport?”

“He was … busy.”

Paul was supposed to pick me up from the airport but backed out at the last minute. Bastard didn’t even text me until I was at my layover.

‘Bro, I can’t pick your faggy ass up. Gotta stay after school. Individual Parent-Teacher session. I’d be pissed but this tard’s mom is a total MILF. Don’t be mad. Paul’s gotta tear some ass up first. Text me the place when ur ready to get fucking wasted.’

John fixes his stare right ahead as we enter the Baltimore tunnel. “Well, alright, but I can’t drink too much tonight.”

#

Eight hours later, we’re fucking wasted.

I’m talking to this girl. I’m not completely sure of what her name is, but it starts with an “A.” Maybe.

Olive-skinned with dark hair, huge tits and pouty lips, she brushes up against me for the third time tonight. “So, I’m like half Cuban. My dad is Cuban. He came over with Abuelo Javi when he was only ten years old. Pretty interesting, right!?”

“Not as interesting as your tits.”

I’m too drunk already. Why the fuck would I say that?

The girl laughs deep. “Oh, so you like my tits, huh?”

I open my mouth to deny it, but not before she puts a finger to my lips.

“I believe it’s time you buy me another drink.”

Before I can head to the bar to purchase my penance, John staggers over from the bar with two already-filled shot glasses and hands me one. “So, like I was saying - I think I found the one. I’m gonna marry Shelly.”

The girl presses a hand against my shoulder. “Do you want to get married?”

I throw half the shot back. “Fuck, no. Too much commitment”

John rolls his eyes. “That’s rich coming from someone who signed up to be a Marine for four years. Then again, you did drop out of college, leaving me without a roommate.” John laughs. “Not that I’m holding a grudge or anything. But seriously, why not?”

Before I can answer, the girl flips a strand of dark hair from her forehead. “You don’t have to be married ...” she leans in to look at John, brushing her right tit against my arm. “... to have fun.”

My dick could pierce armor. I throw back the rest of the shot, my eyes darting over to the girl. She catches my look and flashes a quick grin before reaching for her drink.

I take a step towards her. “How can we have fun if I don’t even know your name?” My cloudy brain reaches for the only Cuban thing I can think of. “Is it like Castro or something?”

Her hand tenses on my shoulder. “I wish a hurricane would roll into Havana and drown that fondillo.”

I shrug. “So … can I call you ‘Hurricane’ then?” My brain finally clicks on something, “Maybe Hurricane Havana?”

Anger flashes in her eyes. “How about this: you buy me another shot, and you can call me whatever you want.” Her face softens. “You never know what could happen.”

My dick could cut diamonds.“What do you want?”

She touches my arm and coos, “Anything.”

I walk up to the bar and order two shots of whiskey straight. While the bartender grabs the bottle and pours the drinks, I glance around, scouting for a better option than Hurricane. Nothing.

“Whiskey?” She places the shot glass onto the table and pouts. “I thought I told you I don’t like whiskey.” Then she punches my arm. “Don’t give me that look! Go get me something I would want!"

Anger races up my back. But before I tell her to get her own fucking drink, her tits convince me otherwise. Shit-fruit cocktail, it is. When I arrive back at the bar to find the bartender pulling a pack of cigarettes out of his breast pocket and making a beeline for the door. Not wanting to return to Hurricane empty-handed, I take a seat at the barstool to wait.

People mingle around me. I ignore them. A minute passes. The crowd presses against me, their roar swelling; the air thickening heartbeat by heartbeat around me. I grip the underside of the bar and try steadying my breathing. A loudspeaker crackles into life overhead. Sweat pools at the small of my back, and my fingers dig into the wood. I turn right and left, looking for them, those motherfuckers. A body falls into me, and every hair on my neck, legs and arms stands upright.

A giggling, drunk girl’s face appears next to me.

“Sorry!”

I stare ahead at a grain of plaster hanging loose on the wall behind the bar. “Sure. No worries.”

The face recedes from my periphery. When the threat is gone, I loosen my fingers and take a long breath.

I’m not there.

The bartender emerges, but just before I can get his attention, a heavy hand grabs my shoulder. My instincts come roaring back, and I grip my fists into a ball. The hand spins me around. My right fist rises fast, stopping an inch from a familiar face.

“How the fuck you doing, dick-licker?”

Paul.

I drop my hand, hoping that Paul doesn’t notice it. He doesn’t. His face breaks into a toothy grin; he grabs my head and pulls me into him. Suffocating against the crush of Paul’s arms, an old, familiar smell of onions and spoiled deli meats wafts into my nose.

“Paul! I can’t … breathe!”

He releases me from his death-grip, “I thought you jarheads were supposed to be tough, but you’re still the same pussy you were back in high school,” He gives me a long measuring look and slaps me on the back, “You looking fucking great, man! I guess fucking up those haji dirt-fuckers makes for a body good, huh?”

My excitement dims. “Something like that.”

Paul slaps my back again. “Shit, man, it’s fucking good to see you.”

I give Paul my own measuring look. Dude’s a fucking circle. “It’s good to see you too Paul.”

All of you.

#

“So then this tard’s mom leans towards me and says, ‘Is there any way you can give my son more individual attention?’ Now, most of the time, the P-Man will-”

I stifle a smile. “Hold up. You call yourself the ‘P-Man’?”

“Yeah. The P’s for Paul and also for ‘pussy magnet.’ Something wrong with that?”

I swallow laughter. “Nope. It’s perfect. Continue.”

Paul studies me for a second, then loses interest in trying to figure out whether I’m fucking with him.

“Anyways, I usually bullshit about the how the curriculum is carefully-crafted to meet the individual needs of each special child in the class, but then I catch a pink bra strap peeking out of this bitch’s blouse, and you just fucking know that she’s into the nasty.”

            John looks horrified. “Wait. No. Are you serious? That doesn’t mean-”

Paul ignores or doesn’t hear John, “So, I pulled out my cell phone and said, ‘I’m sure we can work out some one-on-one sessions. Maybe at your home. I should get your number so we can coordinate a good time for tutoring.’ And I shit you not, the bitch just up and gave me her number.”  He slaps the side of his sprawling belly and lets out a bark of laughter. “Bro, I am going to sink my big dick so far up her taint, you’ll be hearing her moan from here.”

John doesn’t laugh. He wrinkles his face in disgust, then looks at me for a cue on how to respond. I smirk and shake my head at my cousin.

“You are so full of shit,” I take a swig of amber-colored whiskey, “and Jesus, dude, you can’t go around saying ‘tard’ anymore. They don’t like it.”

Hurricane reappears next to me. “Everyone LISTEN, Lindsey’s going to be here any minute!” She stirs the green liquid inside her cocktail glass with her pinky and then puts that finger halfway into her mouth. “Um, why does my drink taste like alcohol? That’s bullshit! I’m going to go get the bartender to re-make my drink!”

I turn back to Paul staring at me, his wormy lips pressing into each other.

As soon as Hurricane is gone, he puts his hands up to his cheeks in and adopts a mocking coo. “Aw, the poor baby is offended. Did I hurt your widdle Christian feelings? Maybe you should go tell your mommy that you want to pray real hard to Jesus for the P-Man.”

“Paul, you know I’m not-“

“Fuck you, coz. You don’t know shit about what it’s like to teach special ed. These ‘tards are fucking animals. It’s high-time that the P-Man benefits.”

Paul’s fake sincerity fades into a sly smile. John blinks in disbelief. I think he’s about to explode in moral indignation but instead he staggers forward and makes a long, deliberate motion of checking his watch. “Wow, look at the time. We should probably-”

Paul puts a hand up silencing John and motions with his other to the door. “You see that fine bitch that just walked in?”

A chunky girl with a round, acne-covered face and a drooping eye stumbles past the bouncer.

I give Paul a cringing look, “That?”

Paul licks his lips, leering at the girl. “Bros, wait right here. I’m going to go pick up that bitch. If coz here can score some fine ass, the P-man can too. Shit, maybe she has a friend for old man Johnny to wet his willie on.”

“I have a girlfriend, Paul.”

“That would prevent a fag like you from getting some, wouldn’t it?”

Paul launches himself towards the humanoid creature before John can respond. I watch, fascinated, as Paul grabs the claws of the drooping eyed monster. She reaches up and paws at a thin mustache under her nose. Shuddering, I turn around to find Hurricane looming like a goddamned sentinel.

She glares at me. "What were you doing just now?

I feign innocence. "Nothing. Just ..."

She favors me with an innocent-looking smile, but her eyes shine with a faint hint of malice. "Were you checking out my friend?"

I snort in laughter. "Unless your friend is that creature that just walked in ...” I point over my shoulder with my thumb at the general direction of Paul and the mustachioed girl. “... then, no."

Paul and the creature start making their way back towards us.

I lean over to Hurricane and John. “It can probably smell fear! No sudden movements!

Hurricane recoils but manages to keep her plastic smile. What the fuck is wrong with her? John cringes away. “Jesus, Dude! I’m pretty drunk, but that seems a little out of line. When did you grow so …”

A commotion erupts behind me. I turn just in time to see the creature’s face whoosh through the air past me towards the ground. The claws brace the ground just before it faceplants.

“Oh shit. I’m so clumsy.”

Hurricane gives me an awkward smile as the thing rises from the ground. "This is my roommate Lindsey."

Fifty pounds overweight, double chinned with that still-dead eye and that mustache, Lindsey extends an unsteady hand to me.

"What's your name? Never mind. I'm so fucking drunk I wouldn't remember it tomorrow."

 I brush my hand against hers as Paul drapes an arm across her shoulder.

Hurricane shouts into Lindsey’s ear. “You have a boyfriend, Linds!”

They share a knowing look; she slurs a giggle. “He’s not here right now, is he?”

They smirk at each other, and then Lindsey looks in Paul’s direction. “Soooo, what do you do?”

 Paul adopts a distant and noble look, “I’m a special needs teacher for elementary school students.”

“Oh wow! That sounds like a tough job.”

Paul cocks a quick half-wink at me and then turns back to Lindsey. “It can be, but that’s why it’s so worth it. My reward is seeing my little angels grow and learn despite their disabilities.”

Lindsey puts a hand up to her mouth. “Oh my God! That’s so wonderful. Do you have any stories?”

Paul places a hand on the small of Lindsey’s back and pushes her towards the bar. “I could spend the whole night talking about my little angels. Do you like shots?”

When they’re gone, John rises uncertainly from his barstool. “Look man, I don’t think I should drive. I’m gonna catch a cab home. You coming with?” He eyes Hurricane suspiciously. “If not, you have my address, right?”

I eye the door. If I leave, I can get some sleep, and the hangover won’t be that bad.

“You can go, or you can buy me another shot,” a voice calls from behind me.

I shift my gaze back to Hurricane and those tits.

“I’ll see you back at the apartment, John.”

#

An hour later, I’m stumbling into the muggy Baltimore air with Hurricane in tow, and a mist of alcohol clouding my brain. We crash into the brick exterior of the bar and I push my face against hers. I grope one of her breasts with my right hand and shove my left down her jeans.

“Aren’t you an aggressive one?” Hurricane gasps into my ear, then pulls my hand out of her pants, entwining her fingers with my wet ones. “Two can play at that game. Let’s go back to my place. You can show me who’s boss there.”

#

I don’t remember getting into the car. I don’t remember leaving the city. I come to with my heart beating wildly as Hurricane hits the brakes and twists the wheel. A geyser of dust and pebbles erupts into the air as the engine roars. I squeeze my eyes shut. I’m going to fucking die. Only then just before we rocket towards death does the car lurch into a stop. Vertigo hits, and I fumble for the door, finally opening it before pitching my head out to vomit chunks of yellow and green onto the pavement.

Hurricane lights a cigarette, takes a long drag and blows a white cloud into a dark sky. She beckons me to follow with a finger. I pause, wondering, watching as her profile skips into the night.

Is getting laid worth this?

I don’t know why, but I walk in the direction of a Hurricane now silhouetted against a drab building. I catch up to her just as she mounts the stairs leading up one side of the apartment buildings. We walk up concrete steps in silence. I run my hand across the handrail to keep from falling over, feeling the rough divots of peeling paint. We stop at the first landing, and I hear a click-click and see a flicker of light in front of Hurricane’s face. Weed smell hits my nose. When we reach the top landing, Hurricane turns to me and offers the joint. I hesitate again.

I’m still a Marine for the next thirty days. What if they try to piss test me or some shit? Those assholes would try to fuck me out of my benefits.

Hurricane waves the joint in my face. “Smoke.” When I lean away, her eyes narrow. “You’re acting like a fucking cop.” She pulls the joint back to her lips and takes a long drag. “I don’t fuck cops.”

I let a moment pass. I haven’t even smoked since high school. But then Hurricane reaches up to her silver necklace, adjusting the chain to let the medallion rest on the tops of her tits.

I focus on the ornament, and when the light from a nearby lamppost hits it, I see a silver crucifix. Hatred grips me, and I find the joint in my mouth. Weed hits my brain, and the smoke curls through my body as the tension from the drive softens and then drifts away. Being high isn’t so bad. I offer the joint back to her. She takes one final hit before flicking the butt off one of the two apartment doors.

She reaches for my hand and pulls me to the other door. “Shall we?”

I nod, hazy.

Hurricane throws open the door, and we step through the door frame to a blonde-haired girl and dark-haired kid with their heads bowed, hands folded in prayer. The door slams behind us, and the girl’s eyes open; she winks at Hurricane. The boy hasn’t moved from prayer position.

“Thank you. Thank you! Thank you, Jesus! In your name we pray, amen!”

The boy’s eyes open, and he looks at us, smiling that plastic smile I knew so well.

“Andrea! So good to see you!” His eyes move over to me. “And who is this?” He bounds to his feet, the girl following.

 I’m too drunk and high to deal with this. I’m only here to get my dick wet. The boy strides over to me. His face, his eyes, his walk: they all brim with a disgusting cheerfulness. I already hate this motherfucker before he arrives in front of me. 

“I’m Tyler,” he says, extending a hand. “Our prayer session has gone a little late. Would you like to join us?”

The girl nods. “Praying is like, so great. You can tell God anything. I love that! I’m Jaimie by the way!”

Their invitation sets my teeth on edge, and her face surfaces. Her cheerful religiosity smiling at me, the look on her face when ...

I push the memories away and try fixing a smirk at Tyler. “Yeah, no thanks. I have better things to do.”

Tyler looks at me, all innocence. “Like what?”

Is this a fucking joke?

I ball my fist and insert a finger into it. Jaimie smirks, but nothing registers in Tyler’s eyes, I sigh.

“Parcheesi.”

“What a great game! I haven’t played it since middle school. Did you bring a board with you?”

Before I can tell Tyler that we’re not playing parcheesi, you fucking moron, Hurricane grabs my hand, and we’re tumbling into her room and bed. The world spins wildly, and Hurricane peels her shirt off.

“Don’t worry,” she giggles, “Tyler isn’t here too much. Jaimie just has this thing for him. I don’t even think she goes to church or anything! She just wants to fuck him. Speaking of fucking ...” she grabs her left boob and licks a nipple. “Now you get to show me who’s boss.”

She jumps to her feet, strips her pants off and throws them to the side of her room. Standing fully naked over me, she places a finger in her mouth.

“Oops, I forgot my underwear.” She takes the finger out of her mouth and lowers her body towards me. Her mouth hovers next to my ear.

“You can be rough if you want to.”

I wince. “What if I don’t want to.”

Teeth graze my ear and trace down to my neck. “I’m just saying you can if you want.”

You’re making a mistake.

#

Sunshine assaults my face as a cell phone rings nearby. Rolling over to get away from the glare, my eyes open to a naked body stirring next to me.

Holy shit, who the fuck is this?

A slender arm reaches up to a nightstand and grabs the cell phone.

“Hello? Who is this? Linds? Linds, I can’t understand you. You’re where? Breathe baby! He what!? No way! Oh my God. What a fucking asshole! Five dollars!? That’s not enough to buy a cab to get home! Okay, don’t worry. I’ll be right over.”

She snaps her cell phone shut, rolls over and leans her head against my shoulder. I press my eyes shut and pretend to still be sleeping.

“Hey um, I’m sorry, but I have to kick you out,” she croaks, planting a slobbery kiss on my pursed lips. I open my eyes, still trying to piece together where I am and how I got here. Recollections of the drinking binge, the car ride home and parcheesi play as montage in my head.

I stare into her face trying to remember her name.

And then it hits me: Hurricane Havana. Except that wasn’t her name. What was her name?

“Why? What’s the matter?” I mumble. The only thing I want is to stay under the covers and sleep off the hangover.

She sits up abruptly and shoots me an ugly look.

“Your cousin kicked my roommate out of his house this morning. Gave her five bucks and asked if she had a ‘whore calling card.’”

I bite hard against my lip to keep from bursting into laughter, but I guess my eyes give the game away.

Hurricane glowers at me. “Do you think that’s a fucking joke? My friend is stranded somewhere in Baltimore, and I have to go pick her up, all thanks to your asshole cousin.” Her features soften. “I know. I know. It’s not your fault. But really! Isn’t that the rudest thing you’ve ever heard?”

I manage to keep a straight face. “Yep.”

Sighing, Hurricane nuzzles herself against me. “I had a really good time last night.”

An uncomfortable feeling settles in my stomach. “Yeah. Me too.”

Hurricane nuzzles her cheek against my chest. “So, I know this may be a little forward, but, like, can I see you again?”

My skin crawls at her touch. “Uh ...”

 Her body tenses against me, and her face rockets up to face mine, “What the fuck? I’m not into one-night stands. I’m not a whore like your idiot cousin seems to believe about Lindsey.”

Her eyes fix on me. I force out a smile.

“Of course not. But …” I search for believable words. “... I just got home yesterday, and I don’t know that I’m ready to settle down just yet.”

She gives me a suspicious look but then a smile crinkles at the edges of her mouth. “Okay. We can go slow. No pressure!”

I don’t want to go slow. I want to get the fuck out of this room. As if she’s reading my mind, Hurricane throws the covers off the bed and throws on a pair of boy shorts.

“Come on, I’ll drive you home.”

She arms her way into tank top and walks over to a mirror hanging over her dresser. She stops in front of it and then reaches down to grab something.

“Your phone. Don’t want to leave without that, do you?”

I shake my head no, and she starts to hand it back before stopping.

“Hey, would it be okay if I put my number into your phone?”

Another wave of unease washes over me. If I tell her no, she’s going to flip her shit. Besides, having an easy booty call wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world ... I look Hurricane over … even if she’s a six out of ten at best.

“Yeah. That’s fine.”

She flips my phone open. When she finishes, I think she’s about to toss my phone back to me. Instead, Hurricane’s phone buzzes and chirps on her nightstand.

“Now you can’t disappear on me. Just kidding! I’m not a psycho.”

She picks my shorts off the floor and tosses them to me. “Get dressed. I’ll drive you home.” She starts digging through a dresser drawer of balled-up jeans before pausing to stare at me for a long second. 

“And since I’m driving you back, I’ll know where you live.”

“That’s not my apartment,” I blurt out, before I can stop myself, “I’m just staying with my best friend until I find my own place.”

Her eyes narrow. “Oh, that would have been so bad if you kept that from me.” But then she flips back to cheery. “Are you hungry? I’m starved. I haven’t eaten since … I can’t remember! Let’s stop somewhere on the way. It’ll be our first real date!”

Fuck.