Kevin’s fist flattened my nose against my face, the cartilage sprawling across my cheekbones, blood surging over my mouth and lips, my eyes filling with water. Bells went off inside my brain. The pain was like discordant music played on shards of glass.
Fifteen minutes later, I was at her door.
Lauren’s voice came through the intercom like the song of an angel drifting down from Heaven. “Hello?”
“It’s Jake. From work.”
“What do you want?”
“Can I come up?”
“What do you want?”
I let the pain creep into my voice. I’d rehearsed this part on the way over. “I got beat up.”
The buzzer sounded and I let myself in.
Lauren and I both worked at Hot Stan’s, the best hot pretzel purveyor in the Currie Valley Mall. You probably think that Hot Stan’s is the only hot pretzel purveyor in the Currie Valley Mall, but you’re wrong. The mall also has Mother May’s Pretzels and the sports bar, Diamond Doug’s, has hot pretzels as an appetizer. As far as hot pretzels go, Mother May and Diamond Doug are both garage bands and Hot Stan’s is Van Halen.
Lauren had worked at Hot Stan’s for about six months. She had dark hair streaked with gold, a relaxed laugh, and she made the orange Hot Stan’s aprons we had to wear look sexy. Aside from her habit of losing her patience with some of our more dim-witted customers, I thought she was perfect.
In the eleven years I’d been with the company, I’d asked out several of the women that got hired. Each time I brought in a single red rose and made my pitch. They all said no.
Lauren was standing in her open doorway when I got to the top of the stairs, wearing jeans and a grey Knights of Columbus t-shirt. Her hair was down and I realized I’d never seen her out of her hairnet. Her eyes inflated when she saw me. I knew why. My right eye was puffed shut. My nose was destroyed. Various gashes, scratches, slashes and cuts criss-crossed my face.
I’d rehearsed this part, too. “I was taking my trash out,” I said. “This guy jumped me in the alley behind my building.”
“I don’t know. Maybe he wanted money. I don’t know. He ran off.”
She ushered me inside, sat me down on her couch and then went to her bathroom. She had a nice place, small but she used the space well. There were Polaroids on the walls, pictures of Lauren in bars and at parties, canoeing on the river, lying on a beach next to an ocean.
When she came back, she carried Q-tips, towels, hydrogen peroxide and Band-Aids. She pulled up a chair in front of me and started wiping away some of the blood. Her eyes looked sympathetic and a little disgusted. “Does it hurt?”
“Only when I laugh,” I said, trying to be as smooth as the pain would let me.
“Why did you come here?” she asked as she worked.
I looked at her for a moment. I hadn’t rehearsed this part. The symphony of agony I felt in my head made it hard to think. “I thought I might…” I couldn’t come up with anything. “I think he wanted my wallet.”
She stopped working on my face. “But why did you come here?”
I gave myself another moment. “This was the only place I could think of.”
She started to work again.
“I think your nose is broken.”
“Probably. He’s pretty strong.”
“He? Who’s he?”
“I mean, he hit me pretty hard. He must be strong.”
“Did you know the person that did this to you?”
My throat tightened. I could smell Lauren’s hair, like flowers and oranges.
“We could go get a pizza,” I said.
Lauren stopped again. “What’s going on here?”
Lauren stood up from her chair. “I think you should leave,” she said, turning to head for the door.
Lauren paused and looked at me. “You just what?”
I stood. It felt like her eyes were burning holes in my face. “I read somewhere that the best way to jump-start a relationship is with the help of a disastrous catalyst. Something bad happens and it gives two people a reason to need each other. Like the loss of a job, or a natural disaster or something as simple as a mugging. Any of these can make two people say ‘We’ll get through this together.’”
“You came here to…” She shook her head. “Who did this to you?”
“That guy you hang out with?”
“He’s my best friend.” I tried a quirky smile. “A best friend is the best choice if you want the best beating.”
She started walking away again.
My hand reached out to touch her shoulder. “Can’t we get through this together?”
The moment my fingers made contact, Lauren twisted back toward me, her arm moving like a fast and angry python. Her fist flattened my nose against my face, the cartilage sprawling across my cheekbones, blood surging over my mouth and lips. My eyes filled with tears.
“You should’ve just asked me out, Jake,” Lauren said. “I probably would’ve said yes.”
John Weagly has had several plays produced by theaters across the country. Some of those theaters include Eclectic Company Theatre in Los Angeles, Strawdog Theatre in Chicago, Turtle Shell Productions in New York City and the Bloomington Playwrights Project in Indiana. He has had many short stories published in places like “Plots With Guns”, “Hardluck Stories”, “Bullet”, “Demolition” and “Big Muddy”. He’s even had some poems published; those were mostly haikus. The Undertow of Small Town Dreams, a collection of his short stories, is available from Twilight Tales Publications. For more information about John, check out his website at www.johnweagly.com.