Letting Life Lead
Note: I’m feeling quite discouraged today, but I sat down and wrote anyway. For those who are new, WOtF is an exercise I do for myself. I sit and write until I get to 800-1000 words. No editing. No thinking about what I should write or how to write it, or if it’s bad, or good. The characters speak to me and I transcribe it. See the previous excerpt here.
“Hey,” Ben called as she pushed open the gym door.
Inez waited. A gust of cold air slapped the heat from her face.
“Some of us are headed to the Crow Bar.”
“Thanks. Another time.”
Inez hung the shoes around her neck and turned up the street heading home. Only when the apartment door closed behind her did she allow herself the luxury of holding her bruised ribs. Normally, such insignificant injuries stopped being a nuisance after a few hours and disappeared within a few days. A handful of ice against her face quelled the fire and numbed her palm as the cubes melted. Nothing felt right or normal. Even in this state, she itched to be out again, to roam the streets, to be feral and lose herself. Inez staggered to the couch to lick her wounds and that’s where Troy found her the next morning sprawled on her back. The fog lifted slowly. Her eyes peeled open to slits, the wrinkles in her forehead made the new scab stretch, and her split lip throbbed. Troy’s words jumbled through the ringing in her ears. His gentle kiss on her lips tingled and tasted like donoughts and tea. A tender thumb brushed the bruise under her eye.
“I’m fine. It’s nothing.”
Troy sat down and put a hand on her leg, “I said, ‘I hope you gave as good a you got’. You do look like shit, though.”
“I let my guard down.”
He plopped a folded bag on her chest and Inez stuffed her greedy mouth with the scones inside.
“Some of those are mine…okay…maybe not…” he laughed and as the mirth faded his face sobered. “Listen, Paul won’t touch you again, I promise. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t need to apologize for him.” Inez didn’t save him a crumb. The smell of his breakfast indulgence engulfed his exhales. “You can’t fix him; he can only do that himself. I heard what you said to him. It’s enough.”
Troy fiddled absentmindedly with her socks as she draped her legs over his lap.
“What were you like as a kid?”
“You never talk about yourself or your family.”
“They’re dead. Nothing to talk about.”
“I’m — sorry.”
“What for? People die.”
“Don’t be like that.”
“Like what? Heartless?” she snapped.
“Where did that come from? I meant, act like it doesn’t bother you.”
“I don’t want to talk about it. It’s not a good time.”
“When is a good time? Because you never want to talk.”
Inez sat up and curled up away from him at the far side of the couch her vexed attitude matching his exasperation. “Why does it matter?”
“B-because you do strange shit.” Troy’s stutter manifested as his frustrations peaked. The veins in his neck strained as he took a few seconds to center himself. “I’m trying to understand. You let people hit you in the face for fun, you aren’t intimidated by anyone, but I try to talk to you and you freak out –”
“I don’t freak out —”
“— and get defensive.”
“Look at you. You’re pissed. It was just a simple question. ”
She rubbed her scalp with the fingertips of both hands. The chain around her neck pressed against her flushed skin and each link seemed to grow leaden and she twiddled it between her thumb and forefinger unaware she was doing so.
“Inez, I want to know more than the bits and pieces that come up when you forget to hide them.”
“You’re like a dog with a bone. Fine.” Inez acquiesced. “I was a good student and played nice with most of the kids. What else do you want to know?”
Troy threw his head back on the couch and heaved out his annoyance with a grunting breath. “Okay. Your first boyfriend.”
“Yes. What was he like?”
“Nothing like you.” Inez noted Troy’s crossed arms and the rise in his ire.
“Come on. One story.”
She sighed. “Harvey Martin. He was thirteen — liked to build models — skinny, smart, shy, and kept to himself mostly. Not the outdoorsy type — ordinary. We had a few classes together, but we really didn’t have a reason to talk much at first. He got picked on a lot.”
“And — ?”
“— and it was just right place, right time. Some boys ganged up on him on his way home from school. He liked to cut across an empty field on Reed Street to get to his house. I sometimes went that way because there was a culvert that you could float paper boats on after a hard rain.” The spring storms, she remembered, had swelled the local waterways. Most of the kids preferred to hike to the quarry or the lake for amusements, but Inez had decided to trek on her own and sought solitude in the over grown lot. “They had him cornered by a grove of trees where you couldn’t see. Three of them. I walked up and ordered them to stop. They didn’t.
“They were shoving Harvey’s face into a muddy puddle. One had his foot on Harvey’s neck and the other two were holding his legs. He could barely catch a breath — couldn’t even shout for help. I don’t think they realized he was drowning. They laughed.
“I threw down my books, picked up a knotty stick, walked up to the one standing on Harvey and hit him on the back so hard the stick broke. His friends jumped on me. I punched one in the face and he ran off — sprained my wrist — the other one kicked me and threw me on the ground. Harvey came out of no where and gave that kid a fist full of crazy. They’d forgotten all about him. The fight was even and we got into it. We got the upper hand, though. ‘Leave us alone,’ he told them, ‘or I’d tell everyone you got beat up by a girl!’
“I forgave him for that backhanded insult eventually. We stuck together — were good friends — worked on a lot of projects — shared a lot of firsts. ” Inez blinked away haze of the past. “It…was a long time ago.”
“So, what happened to him?”
“Growing up happened. I told you, it was a long time ago.”
“— I’m done. You got one story.”
She curled on the couch, pressed a hand to her aching ribs, and closed her eyes. She felt Troy settle himself and turn on the television. He didn’t really want to know about that boy, she knew that. He’d really wanted to ask about the necklace, the lone picture in the bedroom, and the nightmares. Inez, studied Troy’s profile through barely lifted lids and wondered if he could handle the questions he didn’t ask.
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